Houston: We Have the A380
by Jack Harty
Everything is bigger in Texas, and the tradition continued as Lufthansa began daily Airbus A380-800 service from Frankfurt, Germany, to IAH on August 1. At 1337lt, Lufthansa's flagship aircraft touched down to a big Texas welcome, and after beating what was thought to be the impossible, the celebrations began.
The journey to land the A380 began late in 2011 when Lufthansa and the Houston Airport System teamed up to undertake the endeavor. Shortly after, HAS consulted an expert who said it would take at least two years of preparations to accommodate the A380. Despite this projection, Mario Diaz, Director of HAS, knew they would be prepared for the world's largest aircraft in eight months, and his strong determination established the tone for completing the project on time. A team made up of Lufthansa, Airbus, the Houston Airport System, the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection came together to beat the impossible, preparing Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport to accommodate the A380 in eight months.
Preparing for the A380 was no easy task. On January 4, 2012, preparations for the A380 took off. First, taxiways and runways were widened to accommodate the 262ft (80m) wing span, and the tarmac was strengthened for the multi-tonne aircraft. Simultaneously, the terminal was extended about 100ft (30m) to accommodate a passenger walkway that led to the Jetbridges. Also, a special $750,000 catering truck, that reaches the top deck of the A380, was transported to Houston.
After the renovations were accomplished, the project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. With a successful landing on August 1, Houston became the fifth US city (see Airways, September 2011), as well as the first central US city, to receive A380 service. To celebrate the significance of the first A380 service and a 27-year partnership between Lufthansa and the Houston Airport System, Houston Mayor Annise Parker signed a proclamation that made August 1 'Lufthansa Day' in Houston.
By upgrading the equipment on the Frankfurt–Houston route from a 747-400 to an A380, Lufthansa increased its daily capacity by 59%. Juergen Siebenrock, VP-The Americas for Lufthansa, stated that the airline's strong relationship with the Houston oil and business community, a route network that incorporates 35 major energy capitals, and its status as a Star Alliance partner, will be the keys to success for Houston's A380 service. Further, he revealed that passengers on the inaugural flight were from over 90 different origins. This proves that Lufthansa is connecting the world with Houston.
For any airport to handle the A380 is a high honor, and opens up new opportunities. With Houston being home to an important energy capital, it can only be wondered what is coming next.
(Airways and the writer thank Darian Ward and Melissa Sustaita of the Houston Airport System, and Dorothee Seiler and Christina of Lufthansa, for their assistance with preparation of this article.)