WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. airports planning to accommodate the Airbus A380 expect restrictions for other aircraft operating near the superjumbo that could increase ground delays for some flights, congressional researchers said on Friday.
The General Accountability Office study shows policymakers, airport operators and airlines are unsure about the impact the European-made jetliner will have on operations at John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles International (LAX), and 16 other airports.
But the research suggests the world’s biggest passenger plane could slow ground traffic and lengthen landing and takeoff waits as trailing aircraft keep their distance from the A380’s aerodynamic wake. Those delays could limit the number of flights airports can handle and cost airlines financially, depending on the number of A380 flights and when they occur, the GAO concluded.
“In some cases, all other aircraft on the ground may need to stop completely while the A380 lumbers through,” said Rep. John Mica of Florida, the top Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives aviation committee and the panel’s former chairman.
Additionally, limiting the A380 to designated runways, taxiways or gates could compromise air controller flexibility in handling other traffic.
“FAA and industry experts generally agreed that the A380 will add another element of complexity to airport operations and airspace management,” the GAO said. The FAA continues to study matter.
Even small delays can increase airline operating costs and carriers would likely resist schedule changes, especially if the A380 feeds connecting service.
Airbus, a French-based consortium, noted its recent U.S. test flights went smoothly.
“These visits have demonstrated clearly that the aircraft is capable of being operated safely, efficiently and without any significant adverse impact on U.S. airports,” Airbus said in a letter to the GAO.
Airbus also said key airports believe any delays caused by the A380 are manageable, and that the plane is designed to reduce congestion because of its sheer seating capacity.
When the double-decked A380 enters service later this year, it will be the largest commercial plane and the largest introduced since the Boeing 747 nearly 40 years ago. The A380 has a 262-foot wingspan and maximum takeoff weight of 1.2 million pounds. The A380 can seat up to 850 passengers.
Most U.S. airports are not designed to handle the big jet, but 18 plan to do so. For instance, JFK and LAX are spending about $300 million for wider runways and special gate equipment.
Mica sought the study released on Friday and a previous GAO report on questions he raised about the A380’s costs to airports and its potential impact on capacity and safety.