It's one thing to build a really, really big airplane. It's quite another to find a place for it to land.

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It’s one thing to build a really, really big airplane. It’s quite another to find a place for it to land.

U.S. airports from Seattle to Atlanta say accommodating Airbus’ new superjumbo A380 in anything other than an emergency would require major construction. Runways would need widening and terminals would need upgrades to load and unload the double-decker plane easily.

Even with those improvements, airports might need to curtail other traffic to let the big jet lumber through the airfield.

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And some officials worry the weight of the A380 would collapse tunnels and buckle overpasses.

What’s more, some airport officials say they just aren’t seeing the demand for the A380 that would warrant such cost and inconvenience.

“Let’s do a cost/benefit analysis: Are you really going to spend millions of dollars [when] you might have two of them a day fly in?” said aviation analyst Mike Boyd.

Stretching about three-quarters of the length of a football field, the A380 isn’t much longer than Boeing’s latest version of the 747, the largest commercial airplane in the skies until the A380 enters service next year.

But the A380’s 261-foot wingspan is 50 feet wider than the 747, broader than many runways and taxiways were built to accommodate. The airplane also weighs in at a maximum of 1.2 million pounds, 30 percent more than the biggest 747.

The Federal Aviation Administration says just four U.S. airports — John F. Kennedy in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami — are formally working with regulators on plans to accept the new plane for passengers.

Another two — Anchorage and Memphis — are working with the FAA to take the cargo version.

Airbus says it also has talked with many other U.S. airports and anticipates several more will be able to land the plane on a regular basis by 2011.

Worldwide, the company also says plenty of airports will see the A380 in the next five years, but it’s unclear how many of those airports will be ready by 2006.

Outside the United States, those that are making preparations include London’s Heathrow — which is spending more than $800 million on renovations — Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Changi Airport in Singapore and Australia’s Sydney Airport.

Still, Boyd and other analysts say the scant interest among U.S. airports could be trouble for Toulouse, France-based Airbus, which has 139 firm orders for the A380 so far.

“For the next decade, this is a niche aircraft,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group.

Executives at Boeing Commercial won’t have to worry about the A380 literally darkening their doorstep. To take the A380 for anything other than an emergency, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport would have to spend tens of millions of dollars just on terminal upgrades. The airport also would have to curtail some other airplane traffic while the plane was on its airfield.

Mark Reis, managing director of Sea-Tac, said the geometry of the airport “just does not lend itself to operation of the aircraft of that size on a regular basis.”

Still, some of the nation’s largest airports say the A380 is worth the hassle.

San Francisco International Airport spokesman Mike McCarron said the airport plans to take up to six A380s a day, perhaps beginning in the fall of 2006. The airport already has spent just under $1 billion to build a new, 23-gate terminal that includes five gates to handle the A380.

“We have a huge Asian market, [and] we see the A380 as a growth area to the Asian market,” McCarron said.

India’s Jet Airways reportedly to buy 737s

Jet Airways has placed orders to acquire 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, according to several news reports in India.

The airline, which expects to raise more than $400 million in a stock offering this month, also plans to lease an additional seven of the same aircraft, the reports said.

At list prices, the order would be worth $630 million.

The airline commands a large slice of the Indian domestic market and is expanding into international routes. It expects the aircraft it has ordered to be delivered beginning next year.

Seattle Times business staff