IQALUIT, Nunavut — Frozen smiles have returned to the faces of engineers putting the world’s largest passenger airplane through its cold-weather paces after typical Arctic weather returned to Baffin Island and ended concerns about a warm spell.
Warm, however, is relative.
“Earlier this week, temperatures were very unseasonably mild — down around the -15C (5F) mark,” said John Graham, manager of the Iqaluit Airport, said Tuesday. Technicians are cold-weather testing the 555-passenger Airbus A380 this week at the small airport in the Nunavut capital. Nunavut is the Inuit territory of Canada opposite Greenland.
“It all worked out. We got down to about -29C (-20F) when the airplane landed at Iqaluit airport” on Monday, Graham said.
About 55 Airbus engineers are now working on the giant jet, which has a takeoff weight of 155 metric tons (171 U.S. tons) and a wingspan of 262 feet. Its eight-story-high tail fin is now one of the tallest structures in Iqaluit.
The town, on the tundra just south of the Arctic Circle, won the bid for testing the jet last summer at the Paris air show.
In addition to an abundance of cold weather, the northern capital also boasts uncluttered airspace and vast expanses of runway. In the 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. air force built facilities capable of handling its giant Cold-War-era bombers. The Canadian air force continues to maintain an airstrip capable of landing CF-18s.
Airbus has tested planes in Iqaluit before, as have other aerospace giants such as Raytheon, Boeing Co. and Eurocopter.
Nunavut hopes to build on those successes as part of its economic development strategy, said Economic Development Minister Olayuk Akesuk. He said his department won’t have an estimate of the economic impact of such testing until after the Airbus work is over.
Cold-weather testing is a significant part of the nation’s 21.7-billion Canadian dollar ($18.9 billion) aerospace industry, said Ron Kane of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.
Although the association didn’t break out cold-weather testing in its most recent revenue figures, it is part of the 3.7 billion Canadian dollars ($3.2 billion) companies spent in 2004 on industry-related products and services.
Most of Canada’s current cold-weather aerospace testing is done in Montreal — home of Bombardier Inc. — Winnipeg and North Bay, Ontario, another former NORAD site with lots of runway and open sky. But more specialized aerospace services players can only help, said Kane.
The Airbus A380 — with an average list price of $292 million — began test flights in April. There have been at least 159 orders already for the super jumbos capable of flying nearly 8,700 miles. Singapore Airlines is to take the first deliveries late this year.
Meanwhile, life goes on as normal at the Iqaluit airport, Graham said.
“The only thing that’s different is that on the north ramp we’ve got the world’s most famous plane.”
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