TOULOUSE, France A quirky issue arose at major airports across several continents when engineers began planning for the giant new Airbus A380: Will runway lights be damaged on takeoff by the blast from its huge new engines?
Good question, Airbus said. So it rolled a four-engine A340 onto the runway here, spotted an engine over the lights, locked the brakes and spooled the engines up to a blast greater than the A380 will ever give it. The lights did nothing more than enjoy the breeze. No damage.
"It did not swallow the lights," said Charles Champion, executive vice president for the A380 program.
This was merely one of many thousands of questions that airports around the world have asked as Airbus prepares to put into service the world's largest passenger plane. Some of these questions are major, like whether terminals will have to be redesigned to allow the big plane to park at the gate. Some involve potential annoyances for passengers, like whether the layout inside the terminal will allow them to walk smoothly to luggage areas and parking lots - or cause human traffic jams...
Airport research goes far beyond gate and jetway construction. Airbus has been doing time-and-motion studies of how passengers act when loading and unloading planes, concentrating on Boeing 747-400s that are designed to pack in the passengers, either in vacation charter service or on short flights within Japan.
The 568 all-coach passengers packed aboard a Japanese 747 are about the number that can be more comfortably seated aboard a three-class A380. The results have been somewhat surprising.
Japanese business fliers packed aboard a 747 can load in about 15 minutes, and can unload in an astounding seven minutes. They seem to have developed similar habits that are surprisingly efficient, he said. The same number of American or French vacationers on charter flights take five times longer to load and unload.
Anyone who's been on a plane knows this; people may decry the boarding of high status frequent flyers, but the reality is, there's people who do this all the time, and people who are more-or-less amateurs at it. Getting off the plane quickly is importan to make sure everyone gets to their destination.