Would You Like to Super-Size That?

By Chuck Ross February 11, 2005

Editor’s note: State-of-the-art baggage-handling systems are having a major impact on the design and renovation of today’s airport construction, as described in the February edition of CSE. These systems, in turn, are being impacted by the size of today’s aircraft.

A major change facing airport designers today is simply the size of aircraft. With the growing presence of regional jets, along with the looming presence of the new 500-plus-passenger, double-decker Airbus 380, airport managers have to make sure their facilities are adaptable to a growing range of aircraft sizes.

The Airbus 380 will probably pose the biggest problems for the large hub airports that serve as gateways for international passengers who may be traveling on to other U.S. facilities. The aircraft may require new gate and bridge configurations to handle their increased size.

“I compare [the Airbus 380] to the introduction of the 747 in the 1970s,” says David Schlothauer, senior vice president of Parsons Brinkerhoff Aviation. “There are only a few airports in the country that can accommodate the potential double-level loading and its width and depth for taxiing and parking.”

Regional jets pose different challenges. These efficient, smaller aircraft are creating easier access to air travel for many smaller markets. However, because of their smaller passenger loads, the per-aircraft revenue to the airport is much smaller. Additionally, they sit lower to the ground than the aircraft traditional jetways are designed to handle.

As a result, loading and deplaning may need to be ground-based. Where bridges are used, they need to be longer than typical in order to accommodate Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. Strategies for gate-checked baggage—a more-common request with passengers of these jets—also have to be worked out where bridges are used. Schlothauer mentions Louisville, Kentucky’s use of a new regional-jet bridge system that incorporates a baggage lift to raise luggage up from ground level to the passenger bridge.