Atlanta celebrates A380 super-jumbo jet

Coming Sunday

Fans of airplanes flock to Hartsfield-Jackson and other airports to see their favorite aircraft — or just for the thrill and beauty of the machines in flight.

The world’s biggest airliner is now serving the world’s busiest airport — and all it took was several years, $30 million and a gleam in Louis Miller’s eye to make it happen.

Miller, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s general manager, on Friday celebrated the new A380 flights to Atlanta on Korean Air’s route from Seoul, alongside airline representatives and local officials.

The double-decker A380, built by European plane-maker Airbus, seats 407 passengers, with two staircases, three bars and a duty-free showcase. The lower deck includes 12 first-class pods and 301 economy class seats, while the full-length upper deck is all business class seats.

“I’m amazed it can fly,” Acworth resident Matthew Gulyas said as he waited to board and take his seat in business class.

The A380’s thrice-weekly flights to Atlanta launched Sept. 1. Because that was during the Labor Day weekend, the airport waited until Friday for its water-cannon salute and reception to celebrate the service.

When the four-engine A380 was under development years ago, Hartsfield-Jackson was not willing to make the changes needed to accommodate the giant aircraft without seeing more interest from airlines.

“In the foreseeable future, we don’t think it’s worthwhile,” an airport spokeswoman said in 2005, two years before the A380 entered service.

Miller said after he took the airport’s helm in 2010, he asked if the airport was prepared for the A380.

And when Korean Air, a partner of Delta Air Lines, approached Hartsfield-Jackson about bringing the plane to Atlanta, “the list of why we couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to do it just went on and on,” said John E. Jackson, Korean Air’s vice president of passenger marketing and sales. “But nothing fazed Louis Miller and his staff.”

It ended up taking $30 million of runway and taxiway widening and new double-decker jet bridges on two Concourse E gates to accommodate the A380.

Planning for the improvements started in 2011 when Korean Air was considering Atlanta as one of a handful of cities for A380 service. Other airlines that serve Atlanta, including Lufthansa and Air France, also fly the A380 but have not expressed interest in bringing it to Atlanta.

Duriya Farooqui, the city of Atlanta’s chief operating officer, said the A380 is “much more than a simply massive aircraft.” She also called it “another validation of Atlanta’s position” as a “potent and vibrant” city.