As Emirates airlines grows its volume of passengers through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, bringing in a mammoth Airbus A380 would be the logical next step.
Except Sea-Tac can’t fit the 262-foot wingspan of the twin-deck A380 and still maintain regular operations.
The issue is FAA rules that dictate required separation between aircraft, said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper. While the airport can handle the 225-foot wingspan of Boeing (NYSE: BA) 747-8 jets, the extra 37 feet of an A380 puts that jet in another category.
“At this point we don’t have anything in master planning to accommodate that, because of separation rules,” Cooper said.
While the high-volume airport technically could manage an emergency A380 landing, and even has provided for that possibility, the configuration wouldn’t work for regular service.
“If they were to land on the nearest runway,” he said, “the taxiway next it would be to be shut off, and nobody would be able to operate until that aircraft would go through.”
That’s too bad, because Emirates Vice President of U.S. Sales Matthias Schmid said in an interview this week that as the Dubai-based airline grows in Seattle, graduating to an A380 on one of the twice-daily flights might be the logical next step.
“It is no secret,” he said. “Our president Tim Clark already has mentioned one day looking at full A380 operations to all of our U.S. gateways.”
Emirates now flies the 550-passenger A380 into five U.S. gateways – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and New York – and hopes to add Chicago and Boston.
The A380 is one of the two mainstays of the Emirates fleet. The Boeing 777 is the other, and Emirates balances which jet it uses with where demand is greatest.
Currently Emirates operates a 290-passenger 777-200ER and a 364-passenger 777-300ER jet for the two daily flights between Sea-Tac and Dubai, the second of which started in July. After it upgrades the 200ER, a A380 would be the next way to grow.
Additional growth also would benefit SeaTac-based Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK), which supplies connecting flights for about a third of each Emirates flight.
While Sea-Tac would be happy to welcome A380s, there’s no way to grow at the current Sea-Tac site to accommodate them, Cooper said.
The 1,500-acre airport is one of the most high-density in the United States, and the positioning of the three runways, and the taxiways, are dictated by the narrow site.
“We’d love to if we had more space for the airfield,” Cooper said. “But we have to be considerate of the three cities we’re around, and we’re not looking to expand beyond three-runway configuration.”
Puget Sound Business Journal