After $5M in modifications, luxury Airbus A380 lands at O'Hare
Private suites, lie-flat beds, a lounge, showers, free Wi-Fi and a 261-foot wing span glided into O'Hare International Airport Tuesday.
The world's largest commercial airplane, the Airbus A380, arrived at Terminal 5, berthing at a gate that received $5 million in modifications to accommodate the behemoth.
City of Chicago crews sprayed the jet operated by Emirates airlines with water as it taxied, a welcome reflecting the city's hopes to compete in the expanding global market.
"The ability to serve (the A380) here at O'Hare is a milestone in the development and future of O'Hare," Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said.
But don't rush to book flights -- yet. Tuesday's event was a test of the new gate and it will be some months before regular flights with the A380 commence.
"We have had discussions with three or four carriers that have it in their fleet and have an interest in having access," Evans said. Those include European and Asian airlines.
The Emirates flight from Dubai carried about 500 passengers and it landed on 10-Center/28-Center, a 200-feet runway commissioned in 2013 that is wide enough to accommodate the jet. A future runway on the north airfield set to open in 2020 also will be 200 feet wide.
Passengers who booked didn't know they would be getting a state-of-the-art aircraft, but the test was "an opportunity to showcase our product" in the Midwest, Emirates Senior Vice President of The Americas Rob Gurney said.
Now that O'Hare has the ability to handle an A380, the airline will evaluate demand for the luxury jet.
"We have an interest in operating on a regular basis, but the economic conditions ... have to be right," Gurney said.
Chicago began improvements in March and finished this month. The Federal Aviation Administration gave final approval for the massive jets to land earlier this year.
This is not the first time an A380 has landed at O'Hare, although it's the only time a passenger flight has arrived. In 2007, an A380 landed as Airbus was showcasing its new product.
In preparation for the big jet, Chicago had to redo an existing gate to accommodate two loading bridges to receive the 500 to 600 passengers streaming out from the two levels on the jet.
Improvements included installing new piping, communications and electrical systems, widening the vestibule and relocating nearby gate boarding bridges so the generous wingspan on the A380 didn't interfere with other aircraft.