When Qatar Airways brings in a super-jumbo jet to Atlanta to celebrate its launch of flights Wednesday to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the arrival will require some unusual maneuvering to get passengers on and off the plane.
Behind the atypical debut are flight scheduling issues and some unresolved friction between two competing airlines.
The Middle East carrier will operate its new daily Atlanta-Doha route with Boeing 777s, but announced in late April that it will bring in the super-jumbo Airbus A380 just for the June 1 inaugural flight.
The A380 jet is so large that only a couple of gates at the Atlanta airport can accommodate it.
Those gates on Concourse E are being used by Qatar rival Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson. Delta and Qatar have tussled over issues of alleged subsidies and airline competition, and over Qatar's entrance into the Atlanta market.
Push came to shove, and there is no gate available for a conventional disembarking or boarding process for passengers on the Qatar Airways A380.
Instead, plans are to "hardstand" the airplane, meaning it will be parked on the tarmac for passengers to disembark from the huge jet using mobile staircases. Buses will take the passengers to the terminal.
The plane will then be taxied to the airport's South cargo facility for a welcoming event, and will then be taxied back for the departure to Doha. Passengers will be transported via bus from the gate to the aircraft, and will board using a staircase.
"We’re doing everything we can to accommodate the aircraft they’re bringing in for their inaugural flight," said Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie.
The airport had asked Delta if it could accommodate the Qatar A380. Delta, which develops its flight schedules and plans for gate usage months in advance, said it had planned to work with the airport on a solution. But the Atlanta airline said it couldn’t find a viable option to move its aircraft in the time allotted, adding that it would have had to move multiple aircraft to make room for the huge A380.
"Despite limited time to solve for the request, Delta offered solutions to allow Qatar to use the gates while ensuring our own schedule remained accommodated during a heavy traffic period at the international terminal," Delta said in a written statement.
Qatar's regular flights on the Boeing 777 should be less complicated, with plans for regular operations on Concourse F.