How Many Airports Can Actually Handle The A380?

One drawback of the Airbus A380 is that it requires extensive modifications to airports, such as enlarged taxiways, longer runways, and modified airport gates. But obviously not every airport offers these changes, thereby limiting the operational destinations of the aircraft. So what is required for the A380 to fly to an airport, and how many airports around the world can even take this large aircraft?

China Southern A380
The A380 can only fly into select airports around the world. Photo: Getty Images

Why do some airports have trouble with the A380?

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Airbus A380 is classified as a Code F aircraft due to its massive wingspan and outer main landing gear.

Thus many airports have found themselves unable to accommodate the aircraft without building more infrastructure. Airports need to make sure their runways are wide enough for the wheels, that buildings near taxiways and gates can allow the large wingspan to swing past and that the aircraft doesn’t block other airport operations. Plus, we can’t forget that more passengers on the A380 mean more terminal space for check-in, security, and arrivals.

Surprisingly, the A380 doesn’t have a weight issue, nor does the craft create extra-ordinary stress to runways compared to other larger widebodies. This is because the wheels and their location on the jet spread the enormous weight over a large enough area that the impact is less than smaller aircraft.

Airbus A380, Grounded, Zero Flights
The taxiways need to be wider for the wheels. Photo: Getty Images

Despite runway impact being less of a hindrance, there are still other changes that need to be made. According to a study in 2005, these modifications can be very expensive, and many airports found themselves shouldering the cost. After all, it wasn’t up to the airlines operating the A380 to pay for the broader runways, leaving many airport authorities dipping into their pockets for little return.

So how many airports received these modifications?

What does Airbus say?

According to Airbus, the A380 can run scheduled operations to 140 airports across the world. Many of these are hub airports in major cities such as London Heathrow, New York’s JFK, or Sydney’s Kingsford Smith. Also, of these 140, some are hub airports for airlines that operate the A380, such as Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, or Lufthansa. Interestingly, only one airline with the A380 can’t land at its country’s biggest airport, Hi Fly in Lisbon (which you can read about in greater detail here).

You may notice that these 140 airports are rated for regular A380s operations. Many more airports, up to 400, can technically land and unload an A380. This is why we have seen the Airbus A380 fly into some unusual airports like Singapore’s A380s flying to Alice Springs or Hi Fly to Grand Canaria. Much of this is possible by a special exemption by local airport authorities to allow occasional A380 operations to a Code E airport (airports designed for an Airbus A330 or A350).

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Singapore Airlines is storing four Airbus A380s at Alice Springs Airport. Photo: Getty Images

If the runways and taxiways are wide enough, the A380 can feasibly be parked at a remote stand and unloaded with a standard stair car. While many of the modifications listed earlier are essential, they are not crucial.

What do you think? Have you heard of the Airbus A380 flying to some unusual airports? Let us know in the comments.

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