A big warm California welcome awaits the A380 in San Francisco. Four of the available gates in the 1.8-million-sq.-ft. international terminal, the largest in the US in passenger-processing capacity, are scaled for new aircraft with two-level boarding.

We want to be the first airport in the United States to handle the A380, Airport Director John L. Martin tells AE&T. I expect that to be the case. He promises second-story loading-bridge access will be available when Singapore Airlines gets the first of the new Airbuses, probably late next year. A Singapore-San Francisco A380 route would make sense for SIA, James Boyd, the airlines US VP-communications, confirms. But he emphasizes that the company has not made any firm decisions on service to the US; The only route weve announced for the A380 is the Kangaroo Route connecting Singapore, Sydney and London.

Earlier thinking was that SIA would bring the jumbo to Los Angeles first, but LAXs existing terminals cannot handle it. No action has been taken to implement a complex, $10 billion plan to rebuild the terminal area (AE&T, Winter 2002), and the citys new mayor may decide to revise or drop it. Until larger gate and terminal facilities are built, A380 flights would be handled at remote boarding buildings with passengers bused to and from a terminal. If we operate the A380 at Los Angeles, it would be important to us to offer the same customer convenience our customers expect, and get at Changi, Boyd says. This does not include hardstand operations or busing.

Some changes will to be made to accommodate the carriers A380 flights at SFO, explains Jeffrey D. Seid, executive director of San Francisco Terminal Equipment Co. LLC. Made up of 21 airlines operating in the international building, this company oversees operation and maintenance of the terminals aircraft and passenger handling systems and two ramp control towers. Seid is also the liaison between the carriers and airport management. SIA would prefer to operate the A380 with three loading bridges, two to the lower deck and one to the upper, but in the short term will accept a two-bridge operation as long as one provides direct access for higher-fare passengers seated on the top deck, he says.

All hold rooms are on the main level of the terminal with two Thyssen/Krupp airbridges on each gate, and there is a partial upper story with concessions that overlooks the hold rooms. One of the two bridges on an A380 gate would be modified by setting it on a platform or ramping it up to reach the upper deck. This would not involve structural changes to the building. Passenger seating and services could be added to the upper level if the airlines want them, explains Michael C. McCarron, director of the airports Bureau of Community Affairs.

One of the bridges on each gate carries two power lines plus two conditioned air lines and potable water. But the A380 demands four 400Hz cables and four PC air hoses, Seid says, so these would have to be added to the second bridge. He thinks a second potable water pipe may be needed as well. A special tow tractor is necessary to handle the huge aircraft.

Seid believes passenger and baggage handling facilities in the building will be adequate for 550-passenger loads. The 160-ft.-long check-in lobby has 168 common-use positions on 12 counter islands, with so much space between the islands that even with passengers checking in at facing counters for widebody flights, queues do not tangle in the center as often happens in smaller terminals. Twinned sets of shops line the sides of the lobby, with food courts behind them. Airport police get around the building on bicycles. There are 12 baggage carousels at present, and the airport will install another in the area used by SIA in time for the start of A380 service. A 14th will be added later in the bag claim area on the other side of the terminal as A380 traffic grows. Security screening for passengers and baggage works well and federal inspection stations are staffed adequately, according to Seid. Processing capacity is 5,000 passengers per hr.

Although an elaborate plan to fill in 1,400 acres of San Francisco Bay to build a new runway system for SFO went nowhere (AE&T, Summer 1999), Martin does not anticipate airfield problems when the A380 arrives. The airport has spent $15 million to widen and improve taxiways and make other modifications, he notes, and has received FAA waivers for shoulder width. Runways are 200 ft. wide.

McCarron points out that because the runways are only 750 ft. apart, simultaneous A380 landings are precluded, but with the airport expecting fewer than 10 daily operations for the foreseeable future, this is hardly a concern. He says FAA sees no problems with A380 in-trail distances in the air or on the ground and plans to treat it like any other widebody. When an A380 is taxiing, another aircraft will not be able to taxi the opposite way at the same time because of the formers wingspan, but I dont think that will impact schedules, Martin says, although it will be a little more work for the controllers to manage the traffic.

He also cites increased airfield efficiency from the precision runway monitor/simultaneous offset instrument approach and landing system that went into service last October. The $20 million system can add 25% to the airports low-visibility arrival capacity, permitting up to 38 landings per hr. by letting controllers use both runways.

As it prepares to receive the A380, SFO and its airlines are deciding what to do about Terminal 2, more than 50 years old, the smallest of the three domestic buildings, and now used only for offices. A feasibility study will consider whether to remodel it or tear it down and rebuild, McCarron says. After a new T-2 becomes available, the airport plans to update and reconfigure T-1 because that structure blocks three of the largest gates on the international terminal. He explains that decisions on domestic terminal space are dependent partly on the needs of Virgin USA, a new LCC headquartered in San Francisco that already has office space on the airport and expects to start operations next summer.

A massive modernization and expansion program at the turn of the century gave SFO, in addition to the international terminal, a $430 million automated train system on a third level above the roadways. AirTrain connects the terminals with the parking garage, rental car center and a new Bay Area Rapid Transit System station. In about five years, McCarron says, it will be extended to the long-term parking lot to replace shuttle buses.

The airports traffic is rebounding after sinking from the 2000 record of 41 million to 28 million in 2001. This year, McCarron expects about 35 million passengers, up from 32.8 million in 2004. Overall, traffic is growing 8%-10% in 2005 and international business is up 12% over last yearjust 1% behind the 2000 record.

SFO has lowered its landing fee to $3.85 per 1,000 lb. of landed weight, reducing the cost per enplaned passenger for its airlines from $22 to $15.75, according to McCarron. To make up for the lost revenue, We have been working very aggressively to increase nonaviation revenue. The array of shops and restaurants in the international building is a significant income generator.

Although the plan for new runways is on indefinite hold, Martin thinks SFOs traffic can grow to its master plan capacity of 51 million annual passengers if we have large enough aircraft. The new runway monitoring system will help, he believes, along with smart growth and smart planning.

Smart growth means longer flights and larger aircraft. The airport isnt looking for new short-haul traffic, but were not saying no to anybody. Smart planning, he says, means nudging short-haul traffic toward smaller airports in the region, such as Santa Rosa and Buchanan Field in Concord. We want to see them get more business, he says. We think they should be modernized, although SFO is not offering any help to these airports. The 550-plus-passenger A380 certainly meets Martins definition of larger aircraft, but he admits, I dont see it being a very significant share of our business for awhile. He looks for daily service by SIA, but I think it will be some years before we see Virgin Atlantic with the A380. It will be a few years also for Lufthansa. Whoever flies it and whenever it comes, We want to be ready to handle it when the airlines have it.