- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2011

The busiest airport in Virginia now serves the fleet of commercial planes that rank as the largest in the world.

Washington Dulles International Airport on Monday became the first Washington-area airport to welcome Air France’s Airbus A380, a double-decker plane that can fit more than 850 passengers and dwarfs the normally impressive Boeing 747 jets in wingspan, height and cabin environment.

Travelers can now purchase tickets for the flight, which lands at 1 p.m. every day in Dulles and takes off at 4:40 p.m. A round-trip ticket bought a week before departure will cost about $2,000, compared to roughly $1,800 on a conventional 747.

The Airbus replaces smaller aircraft that fly the route between Dulles and Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, said Robert Yingling, spokesman for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The benefit to Dulles is the jets “increase capacity to a major European gateway,” he said.

Paris is the second-most-popular international destination for people leaving from the D.C. area, behind London. About 200,000 passengers each year fly from Dulles to Paris, Mr. Yingling said.

Monday’s flight was the first time an A380 arrived at the Loudoun County airport with paying customers aboard. There also was a flight in March 2007, before the plane had entered commercial service, to test the airport facilities, Mr. Yingling said.

The four runways at Dulles are capable of handling the jumbo jet, and only minor modifications such as the relocation of some lights and signs and the widening of taxiway shoulders were needed to adjust for the plane’s “very wide wingspan,” Mr. Yingling said.

The A380 is 238 feet long, 79 feet tall and has a wing span of 261 feet, about 3/4 the length of a football field.

Depending on how the plane is divided by ticket and class prices, the plane can hold 525 to 850 passengers. The Airbus’ two-floor cabin has lounge areas, private bunks and bars where passengers can sidle up for a drink poured by a bartender.

The Airbus A380 also has a place in the fleets of Emirates Airline, Qantas and Lufthansa, airlines known for their lengthy cross-ocean flights.

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