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An Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft, sits in the terminal at Heathrow Airport. The A380's twin-aisle, twin-deck passenger cabin includes wide seats and aisles. An optional lower deck includes rest areas and a bar.
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Gearing up to welcome the world's biggest passenger aircraft is not easy or cheap. Airports in the United States are spending more than $900 million on changes to accommodate the A380. Later this month, the nation's third-busiest airport, Los Angeles International, will lose one of its four runways as it launches the biggest construction project in decades.
The Airbus is built for the long-haul Asian-Pacific to U.S. route, says LAX public-relations director Nancy Castles, and Los Angeles already handles more of those flights than any other airport. But, the A380 is about one-third larger than today's Boeing 747, and it weighs 150 tons more, Castles says.
To accommodate it, LAX is spending $60 million to reinforce tunnels and upgrade its international terminal.
Larger gates are being installed, baggage carousels are being expanded and an unprecedented safety upgrade is about to begin, says Castles. LAX will demolish its longest runway, and then rebuild it with new taxiways and gates, in time for next year's scheduled arrival of the A380.
While LAX scrambles to get ready, San Francisco, the second major Pacific gateway, is relatively calm. San Francisco International Airport has been ready to receive an A380 for several years.
In December, 2000 SFO opened a terminal built to serve a new generation of super jumbo jets. It houses twenty-four gates. From the drawing board up, says Mike McCarron SFO's director of community affairs, designers were planning for the future.
According to McCarron, changes included creating enlarged waiting areas so more passengers can wait for planes, expanding baggage carousels to twice the normal size, and having two boarding bridges -- the bridges that take passengers from the terminal to the plane -- available at each gate.
These types of improvements are being replicated in more than a dozen airports across the country. According to the Government Accountability Office, New York's JFK will spend $150 million, and Anchorage, Alaska has set aside $120 million. Upgrades are also planned for Miami, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver. Most of the money will be spent widening runways, to handle the A380's longer wingspan. Dallas-Fort Worth has some minor improvements to go, but spokesman Ken Capps says thankfully, the bulk of their work is already done.
"If an airline called up tomorrow," says Capps, and said, 'Hey we're gonna fly an A380 to DFW airport,' we could land it right now, go out and get the double-decker jet bridge that we already have and put it out, and be ready to handle that aircraft. So great, bring it on."
At a few U.S. airports, officials wish Airbus would bring it on, but others are grateful to have the extra time to finish their planned improvements.