Airbus makes test landing at SFOBy George Raine
Local dignitaries were assembled and dozens of cameras were at the ready Thursday morning at San Francisco International Airport when the largest commercial passenger jet, the hulking Airbus A380, landed gracefully, without at all calling attention to itself.
In fact, it hardly made a sound, touching down on yet another leg of a 150-hour engine test, before U.S. and European certification. But quiet is golden, because a major selling factor for the A380 is that it has engines that are the quietest of any large airplane in the sky.
The price of the A380 is negotiated between Airbus and airlines, but it's estimated to be between $315 million and $320 million, said Keith Stonestreet, product marketing director for the A380 at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France. Airbus says it has 185 orders for the jet.
"Welcome to the future of the airline industry," said Barry Eccleston, president and chief executive of Airbus Americas, while the aircraft, which can fly up to 555 passengers 8,000 nautical miles, was parked behind him on Runway 28 Right. "It's a game-changer."
The A380 in a way looked like an airplane version of a NASCAR race car, because it bore the decals of the operators signed up for deliveries, including Air France, Thai, Qantas, Malaysia, Emirates and numerous others.
The A380 was delayed two years or so because of a wiring problem that was not discovered until the first aircraft was being assembled, Stonestreet said.
He said 13 of the planes are to be delivered next year; there will be 25 by 2009 and 44 by 2010, building up to a manufacturing rate of four a month in that year.
Singapore Airlines takes the controls of the first A380 on Oct. 15 and begins flying it between Singapore and Sydney on Oct. 28. It is expected that Singapore Airlines will be the first airline to fly the A380 to San Francisco International Airport, probably in late 2008 or early 2009, said John Martin, airport director.
SFO's International Terminal, which opened in 2000, was designed to accommodate the three-deck A380, with one deck for cargo and two for passengers, Martin said.
The work included runway and taxi route improvements, and the final piece, completed last week, Martin said, was a jet bridge that will allow passengers to enter and exit easily - one bridge for the third deck and one serving the two lower levels. This eliminates the need to climb stairs once onboard. The airport is the only one in the country that has made this modification, Martin said.
No U.S. carrier has ordered the new Airbus, but other international carriers that have indicated they plan to fly the aircraft to SFO, at least once daily in the next few years, are Qantas, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France and Virgin Atlantic, said Martin.
He said that by 2015 there could be six daily Airbus A380 arrivals at SFO.
"You'll see it, but you will never see them in big numbers," Martin added. With so few of the Airbus models coming, the airport won't be presented with the problem it has with simultaneous landings and take-offs having insufficient runway space.
Airbus officials, such as Jacky Joye, a Frenchman who is a 1969 graduate in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, tout the A380 as the successor or replacement for the Boeing 747.
"It's at the end of its development. I don't believe you will see too many new developments of the 747," said Joye, the flight test engineer and guide for a tour of the aircraft, which was No. 9 off the assembly line.
Peter Conte, a spokesman for Boeing's commercial aircraft division, took exception.
"The 747 was introduced in 1970, but it is by no means a dated airplane," Conte said from Seattle. "As any manufacturer would, we are constantly updating with new technology in the aircraft. The 747 is the most recognizable airplane in the world, one of the most successful commercial airplane programs ever," he said.
In fact, Boeing is developing its latest model, the 747-8 Intercontinental, which, like the Airbus A380, will be marketed as quieter and with lower emissions and better fuel economy than any competing airplanes.
Airbus says that compared with the 747-400 its new jet will consume 17 percent less fuel for every passenger on board.
The model has the longest wingspan on an airliner, and faced a constraint, Joye said. Airports told Airbus that airplanes with wingspans 80 meters or longer would require two slots at terminals. Airbus' solution was to shorten them to 79.8 meters.
For a video and more photos from the Airbus A380, including a 360-degree, panoramic view of the interior of the plane, go to sfgate.com.
Copyright ©2007 San Francisco Chronicle. Published 10/05/2007.