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WSJ: Airbus A380 Churns Up Turbulence
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Airbus A380 Churns Up Turbulence

Questions About Its Wake Could Ignite Safety, Trade Disputes Between U.S., Europe
By ANDY PASZTOR in Los Angeles and DANIEL MICHAELS in Paris
October 5, 2005; Page B4

The Airbus A380 superjumbo jet, which already has left a trade dispute in its wake, may spark a new trans-Atlantic rift over potential safety hazards created by the actual wake from its engines.

The latest disagreement brewing between U.S. aviation officials and their European counterparts is focused on international standards under discussion concerning how far other airliners should fly behind the superjumbo during takeoffs and landings. Such rules are intended to provide adequate protection from the powerful turbulence churned up by the A380's huge wings and four mammoth engines. The A380 -- slated for delivery to its first customer in late 2006 -- is designed to carry about 800 passengers and represents Airbus's bid to dominate the market for long-haul travel.

In addition, officials at Airbus, which is 80% owned by European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. and 20% owned by Britain's BAE Systems PLC, are privately fuming about separate U.S. moves aimed at spelling out how fast the A380 will be permitted to maneuver while on the ground -- restrictions never imposed before on any commercial aircraft.

The debate is supposed to be entirely about safety, but industry officials and even some participants worry that ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. and Europe threaten to escalate the matter. The two sides are sparring over aircraft subsidies before the World Trade Organization, sparked in part by European aid for the A380. Some European aerospace officials suspect the proposed rules could be used to discourage purchases of the A380. Some U.S. officials, meanwhile, fear that perception could complicate negotiations over both the trade dispute and the aviation safety issues.


The A380 has a maximum takeoff weight in excess of one million pounds, nearly one-third more than the heaviest 747s. Even an additional minute or two of spacing behind some planes can affect traffic flows during peak periods at large airports. Extra time getting the largest Airbus model to and from gates, or slightly longer waits for aircraft following it on the same runway, eventually could make the big planes economically less appealing.

When an airborne aircraft runs into another plane's wake -- the twin cones of turbulent air that fan out from the wingtips of a big jet -- the impact can jostle the trailing plane. In extreme circumstances, the result can even be loss of control. There haven't been any recent crashes of jetliners attributed primarily to such wake encounters, though over the years some business and private planes have experienced serious incidents and even crashed after following a larger aircraft too closely near an airport.


Write to Andy Pasztor at and Daniel Michaels at

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