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How the Airbus A380 Squeezes into the U.S. Airline Model

Stocks in this article: BA DAL UAL

But US airlines' passengers fly regularly on the A380. American code shares with Qantas on flights from Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne. United (UAL) code shares with Lufthansa on A380 joint venture flights from Frankfurt to Miami and San Francisco.

Mann says he is surprised at the high number of A380s that have been sold -- Airbus has taken orders for 253 and delivered 69 -- and at the array of U.S. airports. "I would not have expected to see some of the non slot-restricted airports you see today," he says. "I underestimated the impact of joint ventures and antitrust immunity."

Initially, many experts assumed the principal A380 routes would involve congested, slot-controlled airports such as London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Kennedy. Of course, Mann notes, once airlines buy A380s, "They have to put them somewhere." In the U.S., he says, the only real choices are major international gateways and major hubs.

One thing experts find unsurprising is that no U.S. airline has ordered an A380. "It simply doesn't fill the needs of U.S. carriers, as opposed to flag carriers of other nations," aviation consultant Scott Hamilton says. "You have so many interior cities in the U.S. that now have non-stop overseas service." Before deregulation and a profusion of Open Skies treaties, nearly all U.S. international service originated in a handful of coastal airports. Besides, Hamilton says, U.S. passengers prefer more flights throughout the day to fewer flights on bigger airplanes.

Hamilton says the A380 is "technically a great airplane, but because of delays and other problems, it is still a cash drain on Airbus." One problem, he says, is that it came to market at the wrong time, just before the start of a global recession. "But the market is growing into the A380, just as it grew into the 747," he says.

For the A380 to fly to the U.S., airports -- such as Atlanta -- must make accommodations. Today, of the top seven U.S. international gateways, only Chicago O'Hare and Newark do not have A380 flights. A planned O'Hare construction project includes 2013 completion of a runway that can handle large aircraft including the A380 and the Boeing (BA) 747-8, airport spokeswoman Karen Pride says.

Miami International spent $4 million to prepare for Lufthansa's daily A380 service to Frankfurt, which began in June. The aircraft is operated seasonally for European sun-seekers. From June through September, the load factor was 89%, airport spokesman Greg Chin says. "No other airline has officially informed us yet that they will be using the A380 at MIA, but a few have expressed interest," Chin says.

At Boston Logan, attention is focused on another new aircraft, the Boeing 787.

On April 22, Japan Airlines will begin Tokyo-Boston 787 service. "Midmarket airlines like Logan are better suited for long international routes with a plane the size of the 787, rather than the A380," airport spokesman Matt Brelis says. Nevertheless, the A380 has landed a couple of times at Logan due to weather-related diversions from Kennedy, and passengers have been able to disembark.

A Korean Air spokeswoman did not return phone calls.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/tedreednc.

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