An expensive welcome mat awaits the A380

Marketplace Staff Mar 16, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Angry Airbus workers let their feelings be known all over Europe today. Employees left production lines and took to the streets in half a dozen cities. In Toulouse, France, 7,000 people at the assembly plant there walked out over the aerospace company’s plan to cut 10,000 jobs.

Which is more than a little ironic. Because it’s production delays in the plane that’s made at that plant that are to blame for most of the company’s problems.

The giant A380’s at least two years behind. It’s cost the company $6.5 billion in lost profits, and it’s costing airports millions to get ready. Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli looks at the pricetag for welcoming the world’s biggest commercial airplane.

LISA NAPOLI: The double-decker plane is almost the size of a football field and it can be configured to seat up to 800 people.

On Monday, two of the ginormous A380s will fly to the U.S. for the first time — one to Los Angeles and one to New York. The plane to LA will carry only technicians. The plane to New York will be filled with more than 500 passengers, to approximate what a real, live A380 flight would be like.

People in the industry call this a “route-proving exercise.”

JENS BISCHOF: Definitely try to optimize all the ground processes, all the infrastructure, and also the on-board processes which will happen in the airplane. A real-time or a real-world flight in comparison to former test flights.

That’s Jens Bischof of Lufthansa, the airline in charge of the New York-bound plane.

Now, building the world’s largest commercial aircraft was one thing. Servicing it is another. Special double-decker passenger bridges are needed to get all those people on and off the planes.

And imagine dealing with all that baggage, and stocking it with enough food. Refueling a plane that’s 80-feet high. Still unanswered are the questions of where to hanger them for maintenance.

John Infanger edits the industry trade magazine “Airport Business.” He says worldwide air travel’s expected to double by the year 2020. And so everyone’s trying to figure out how to accommodate more people without adding more flights or new airports.

JOHN INFANGER: We have a real capacity crunch going on in this country in terms of infrastructure. So what this does is immediately doubles the potential for a flight in terms of bringing in passengers or taking passengers to international gateways.

U.S. airports are spending close to a billion dollars to attract airlines who’ll buy the planes. So far, New York’s JFK has spent 180 million bucks to get ready. LAX says it’s spending $121 million to reconfigure gates and lounges. And to create parking places in anticipation of the arrival of the aircraft.

Airbus’ Allan McArtor says the large aircraft of the future require something else.

ALLAN MCARTOR: All of these airplanes are long-turn radius airplanes — so airports need to prepare for that by putting a little more concrete at the intersections of taxiways.

Airport Business magazine’s Infanger says airports consider making way for the A380 a worthy investment.

INFANGER: Just adding an international flight can have a dramatic, millions-of-dollars economic impact on a community.

The first commercial flight isn’t scheduled until later this year. And it’ll fly from Singapore to Sydney and London.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

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