Losses and Aviation Safety

That time a massive Airbus A380 with a medical emergency on board was forced to divert to an airport closed due to heavy snow and not suited to accommodate it

‘I realized that Minneapolis/St.Paul airport was shutdown on that day due to heavy snow, and further found out that MSP is not an A380 Airport…’

The Airbus A380 was developed to challenge the dominance of the Boeing 747. Studies for what was to become the A3XX project were started by Airbus in 1988. The A3XX was announced in 1990 and presented in 1994. They would invest a staggering €9.5 billion in the project, which was launched on Dec. 19, 2000.

The first prototype was unveiled in Toulouse on Jan. 18, 2005 and performed the maiden flight on Apr. 27 of that year. Delivery to launch customer Singapore Airlines took place on Oct. 15, 2007, and it entered service ten days later.

Featuring two full-length decks with wide-body dimensions, the A380 has a maximum takeoff weight of 575 tonnes (about five blue whales!), it has 40% more usable space than the Boeing 747 and can provide seating from 525 to 853 passengers.

All these features made of the A380 the largest passenger airliner in the world and when launched, airports had to upgrade their facilities to accommodate the giant.

Given its hugeness, can an A380 divert to an airport not suited to accommodate it?

‘It was December 29th 2017, we were flying from San Francisco to Frankfurt on LH 455, an A380 aircraft,’ Shekar Chandrasekaran, an aviation expert, says recalls on Quora. ‘Right after meal service, I found a group of people congregating adjacent to my seat, along with flight attendants; quickly I realized the crew discovered that an old lady seated in the middle set of seats had suffered a stroke and she needed medical attention.

‘The plane was just crossing the US-Canadian Border, and the Captain came on the PA system to announce that he is redirecting the airplane to Minneapolis/St.Paul airport, due to medical emergency of a passenger.

‘The first order of business was to dump fuel to get to landing weight, and therefore the plane flew in circles while dumping quite a bit of fuel. Half-hour later, the plane landed on an absolutely snow covered runway at MSP airport. I realized that MSP airport was shutdown on that day due to heavy snow, and further found out that MSP is not an A380 Airport. [Of course it could handle 747s]. Therefore, no gate was allocated, but stayed on the taxi-way, Emergency Medivacs came on board, lifted the passenger and was safely transported to hospital.

‘Now came the issue. The Airplane needed to refuel again, and the biggest issue was the airport did not have the right set of system and practice to fuel a A380. Captain, and the ground staff kept working with Captain. Almost 90 minutes later, they some-how got required fuel, and we got to finally take off 2 hours and 30 minutes later. Essentially, 30 minutes of fuel-dumping, 30 minutes to evacuate the passenger and what should have been a 30 minute refueling, it took 2 hours to get the plane moving.’

Chandrasekaran concludes;

‘We were late to Frankfurt by 3+ hours, and missed our connection. [Of course, Lufthansa rearranged the connections upon our arrival at Frankfurt; we finally reached our destination several hours later]. Never felt bad about the delay, but only wanted to know that the evacuated passenger is safe and will enjoy her life for many more years to come.

‘[Gave me the confidence that I can travel Lufthansa anytime; they paid more attention to passenger’s health than flight delays, related compensation, and cost of fuel etc..].’

Photo credit: Vuxi Own work via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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