Sky Harbor, What were you thinking?

I fly to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport regularly as my employer has a large operation in the area and my mother, as well as several old friends live in Phoenix. Sky Harbor airport is not a great cathedral of aviation.

Like all airports, Sky Harbor is constantly under construction. The master plan calls for terminals two and three to be completely rebuilt, which will include the eventual closure of the original terminal two. It can’t happen soon enough. Terminals two and three are old, ugly, inefficient and have almost no food and beverage options beyond the too-small security checkpoints. The main issue is who and how it will be paid for.

Currently, Sky Harbor is in the multi-phased construction of the Sky Train system. This automated people mover will eventually connect all the terminals to the remote parking lots, the rental car center, and the Phoenix METRO light rail system.

Part of the design I can’t wait to experience is to have the Sky Train tracks travel via a bridge over an active taxiway to get to the terminals. It is an audacious piece of architecture that will provide geeky thrills if you are lucky enough to be on the bridge as an aircraft taxies underneath.

Here’s the problem. According to Wikipedia, the bridge is tall enough to let a Boeing 747 pass under the bridge but not an Airbus A380. The odds of sending an A380 or a 747 to Phoenix are slim right now. The local market can’t sustain it. The largest aircraft that currently makes sense for Phoenix is the Boeing 777-300. It has almost as much capacity as a 747 but is considerably more fuel-efficient. The new Boeing 787 and upcoming Airbus A350 are also logical choices, as they were developed with the idea of connecting smaller markets such as Phoenix to long-haul international destinations.

But who knows what the future will bring? The population of Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County is growing at a very quick pace. USAirways will soon be American Airlines. American works very closely with British Airways through the Oneworld global alliance. American Airlines will inherit a very large hub in Phoenix through the merger. Hubs are meant to create critical mass by connecting many more passengers than the local market could ever support. This is already the case in Phoenix. There is a possibility, however slight, that that BA could potentially send an A380 to Phoenix with many passengers that will connect beyond Phoenix with American Airlines. British Airways is in the process of taking delivery of a fleet of shiny new Airbus A380s.

So the question is why this situation with a brand new infrastructure? It could have been that from an engineering standpoint it was not possible to make the bridge high enough. Did the budget for the Sky Train make it impossible? Were the planners overlooking this detail or did they decide that the odds of an A380 visiting Phoenix are too small?

This does not necessarily mean the A380 can’t fly to Phoenix. It will probably have to take a longer taxi to its gate – that is, assuming the airport is willing to upgrade gates to handle the 500 plus passengers and their luggage.

Regardless of the reasons, I really think the powers that be at Phoenix blundered a bit here. Which doesn’t mean I’m not really excited about the potentiality of riding the Sky Train on my next trip to Phoenix.


Way to go Phoenix Sky Harbor!

3 thoughts on “Sky Harbor, What were you thinking?

  1. I need to correct you as you did not research thoroughly. British Airways Daily flies nonstop from London to Phoenix both 747-400 and 777’s since 1999. When Lufthansa flew nonstop Frankfurt to Phoenix daily from 1999 to 2004 they also flew 747-200’s! As for the A380, unless I was dreaming, I flew over the Holidays a few days ago, a substituted aircraft British Airways A380 for the regular 747 to carry additional passengers on the very popular nonstop London to Phoenix flight. At one time BA use to continue the 747 flight to/from San Diego o n the Phoenix – London flight for about 21 months. I suggest if you want to be a reporter, learn to report the facts. Investigate and then write. I am a professional reporter for a large news firm with 3 letter designation. You need to learn how to be a news or blog reporter before you write!

    • Thank you for the feedback. My blog is a work in progress and your feedback will help me find my voice regarding the topics I wish to write about. You’re correct regarding the BA and Lufthansa 747 services. The main point I was making is regarding the height of the new bridge. With the new American it will be very interesting to follow Sky Harbor as American realigns its network. I can’t find any articles in the news or blogs regarding the A380 to Phoenix. If you have any links I would appreciate it.

    • Jiggs, dude, you really gotta chill. Why the nasty tone? “Professional”? Really? With that demeanor, not to mention grammar and sentence structure, I’d haul out a dictionary before casting any stones. What would that “large news firm” be that would associate with you, I wonder. Do tell so I can adjust my bookmarks accordingly. Professional is the restraint and graciousness with which the author responded to your snark. PS, I wouldn’t mind seeing those links either.

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