What Determines Where The Airbus A380 Can Fly?

The Airbus A380 is a fantastic aircraft that has the biggest passenger capacity and an excellent range. But why don’t airlines use it for every route? What restrictions are in place that determines where the A380 can fly? Let us explore.

A380, Airbus Getty
What reasons prevent an A380 flying to any airport? Photo: Getty Images

Why the A380 needs a particular airport

First of all, what is it about the Airbus A380 that determines which airports it can fly to?

Because of how many passengers fit on the Airbus A380 (typically 555 but some airlines like Emirates have up to 650 onboard, or special pilgrimage flights can theoretically fit over 800), airports need more effective ways of offloading the plane. They need to be able to move passengers quickly enough for the aircraft to leave the gate as fast as any other widebody aircraft.

For this reason, airports built special A380 gates that have up to three jetbridges. These bridges connect to both the lower and upper levels and allow passengers much faster disembarkation.

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But that isn’t the main reason why the A380 requires particular gates. The aircraft can’t use the gates reserved for other widebody aircraft thanks to its wingspan of 79.8 m. Plain and simple, the plane doesn’t fit.

This aircraft’s large wingspan also means that taxiways need to be wider, as the wingtips may edge over to critical infrastructure near a ramp or touch other planes waiting to take off. Regarding the runway, the A380 does not need any extra length compared to other widebody aircraft, and occasionally even uses less than smaller aircraft.

China Southern A380
The A380 has the biggest wingspan of any commercial aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Surprisingly, the weight of the plane is not a factor. The Airbus A380 has less of an impact on runways than some other aircraft despite being the heaviest commercial aircraft in the world. This is because the airframe has multiple wheelsets (20 wheels) that spread the load over more surface area than for example, the Airbus A340.

In addition, the A380 main landing gear design (20 wheels and a superior geometry validated by a dedicated experimental program) makes it very friendly to the airport pavement, and as such, the jetliner has lower pavement loading figures (ACNs – Aircraft Classification Numbers) when compared to other smaller aircraft, despite its higher operating weight. – Airbus statement regarding the A380.

How many airports can the A380 fly to?

According to Airbus, the A380 is compatible with over 140 small and large airports for regular service worldwide, and up to 400 airports when adding diversion airports.

Many of these are hub airports that we all know and love, but others are far more obscure.

A map of all the major airports the A380 can fly to. Photo: Airbus

Although there are some individual cases where an A380 can fly to other airports not set up for A380s, it is possible that with enough planning, the A380 can fly to nearly any airport. For example, Hi Fly flew the A380 to Réunion Island and Singapore flew its A380 fleet to Alice Springs, both airports that do not typically cater to A380 aircraft.

What do you think? What airport should the A380 fly to? Let us know in the comments.