Airport Infrastructure:

Unresolved Issues Make It Difficult to Determine the Cost to Serve New Large Aircraft

GAO-02-251: Published: Feb 4, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2002.

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Airbus Industrie plans to introduce the New Large Aircraft (NLA) to U.S. airports in 2006. The Boeing 747 (B-747)is currently the largest commercial aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets standards that govern how an airport must be configured to safely serve aircraft with certain wingspans and weight. A B-747 operates under Design Group V standards, while FAA has determined that NLA will operate under Design Group VI standards. Determining the cost to serve NLA is difficult because several possible infrastructure changes at airports are unresolved. These include (1) whether and the extent to which FAA revises the standards or grants modifications, (2) which airlines buy NLA and the frequency of NLA service at U.S. airports, (3) when NLA begin serving these airports, and (4) the extent to which the cost estimates reported by the airports are attributed to NLA instead of changes to accommodate growth in air traffic. The 14 airports that expect to serve NLA by 2010 collectively report that their cost estimate for infrastructure changes is $2.1 billion; however, the ultimate cost will depend on how issues that affect cost will be resolved. As these issues are resolved, airports will have a clearer understanding of what infrastructure changes must be made at their costs.

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