What goes into making an A380 plane? How long does it take and where is it made?
The Airbus head office is stationed just outside Toulouse, southern France. The plane maker’s onsite Jean-Luc Lagardere facility houses the assembly process for its flagship airliner, the A380.
The plant, which was purpose-built just for the A380 in 2005, houses the largest industrial building in Europe.
The parts for the A380 come from all over Europe. The most important facilities are located in France, Germany, the UK and Spain.
Getting the parts to Toulouse is no mean feat. The wings and most of the fuselage sections come to Pauillac by vessel and are then loaded on barges to go to Langon via a canal.
The parts are then loaded on trucks and transported by night in a large convoy to Toulouse.
Airbus also has five modified A300-600s called ‘Beluga’ in which oversized loads can be transported.
Each A380 plane is assembled at one mega-sized station inside the Jean-Luc Lagardere facility.
All the parts are brought inside the building, and then craned over to what’s known as Station 40, a giant ‘jig’, where the plane slowly comes together as individual parts – wings and tails – are joined to the giant fuselage.
Currently, an A380 spends a little more than a week in the jig at Station 40. At the moment, this means only one plane can be worked on at a time. Airbus is working on cranking up its facilities to assemble more planes within a shorter cycle.
Next, the plane is backed up into ‘Station 30’, where all the plane’s interior systems will be added, including electricals, hydraulics, the cockpit, doors and engines. Station 30 can accommodate three planes at any one time.
The A380s will be parked at Station 30 for about three weeks. After this time, they will be taken out for one month of rigorous testing.
In the final stages, the A380s are flown to Hamburg, Germany, where the interiors will be kitted out according to the individual buyer’s preferences.
Etihad Airways has 10 A380s on firm order. The Abu Dhabi-based airline’s first A380 will operate commercially to London Heathrow from December 2014.