$1 Billion Gamble To Accommodate Airplane

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U.S. airports will spend at least $927 million to prepare for the arrival of the Airbus A380, and the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee says not a nickel of it should come from federal coffers. Rep. John Mica said last week the Airport Improvement Fund shouldn't be used to beef up runways and bridges and expand terminals for the 555-seat jet because of the squabble the U.S. is having with the European Union over alleged subsidies paid to Airbus's manufacturer, EADS. If the government follows through on Mica's suggestion, it would knock a big hole in the plans of 18 airports to get ready for the double-decker jets. The airports plan to pay for about half the cost using the AIP. The balance of funding would be drawn from airport revenues and passenger-derived airport improvement fees, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office last week. Although some in Washington believe the GAO's estimates are high, the report says the improvement costs may actually escalate if the FAA doesn't cut some airports slack on runway and taxiway widths. Some airports are apparently hoping to accommodate the jet on existing 150-foot-wide runways. Current FAA guidelines call for 150-foot runways to be widened to 200 feet with a 25-foot strip of reduced strength pavement down each side. Meanwhile, subsidies or not, Airbus is having a tough time meeting its delivery schedule. Development delays have pushed back the schedule by almost a year and some cash-tight customers are considering backing out of their orders.