The Airbus A350 is among the world’s most exciting and modern airliners. Coming in two variants, it is a key figure in the movement towards long-range twinjets that is prompting many airlines to retire their quadjets in favor of more efficient aircraft. But how exactly is it built? Let’s take a closer look at this interesting and complex process.
Parts from all over Europe
The first thing that it is important to understand about the A350 (and indeed Airbus planes in general) is its multinational nature. Airbus explains that these highly efficient jetliners are put together at one of its Final Assembly Lines (FALs) in Toulouse, France. Airbus has four FALs there, with the remaining five in Germany, China, the US (two), and Canada.
However, the location in which the European planemaker assembles its modern widebody twinjets does not tell the full story. Indeed, as the company details in the clip above, different components come from different Airbus facilities throughout Europe.
These are located in Broughton (UK), Bremen, Hamburg (both Germany), Getafe (Spain), Saint-Nazaire/Nantes (France), and Toulouse itself. Airbus uses its famous ‘Beluga’ outsize freighters to transport components from across Europe to its Toulouse assembly lines.
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The newest assembly line
With production of the double-decker A380 having been canceled, the A350 has become something of a flagship design for Airbus. As such, it is no surprise to find that the FAL in which these XWB (eXtra Wide Body) Series are put together is the company’s newest. Airbus unveiled this modern facility in 2012. The manufacturer explains:
“Designed to have the lowest environmental footprint of any final assembly line ever built by Airbus, this 72,000 square metre, L-shaped facility houses the initial stages of final assembly, involving the join-up of fuselage and wings.”
It isn’t just the building itself that takes Airbus to the next level in terms of creating a modern working environment. Indeed, the way in which the work in this FAL is done also represents the height of efficiency. New methods, including a “streamlined aircraft assembly process,” mean that teams can work in parallel, giving time savings of approximately 30%.
An environmental focus
The A350 offers environmental advantages over older widebodies. As such, it makes sense that this would also be reflected in its assembly building. Indeed, through the use of aspects like photovoltaic solar panels on the facility’s roof, the FAL building is, as Airbus proudly details, “capable of producing the equivalent of more than half of its own energy.”
The FAL’s green status extends beyond the use of renewable energy. Indeed, the very materials with which it was constructed also had a sustainable focus. In total, around 10,000 cubic meters of recycled material were used to bring the new FAL to life.
Starting at Station 59
An A350’s assembly begins at Station 59 in the type’s dedicated FAL at Airbus’s Toulouse factory. This is where pre-installed fuselage modules arrive from Hamburg and Nantes. Here, they are fitted with what are known as ‘cabin monuments.’ This is an umbrella term for units inside the aircraft such as galleys, bathrooms, and even bars.
After this, the fuselage modules, now fitted with the necessary cabin monuments, are taken around to Station 50. This is a key location in the assembly process, as it is where the A350’s main fuselage are components are joined up as it begins to take shape.
There are two key joins to be made at this point. These occur at either end of the central fuselage module, which is connected to the forward and aft modules to form a complete fuselage. It is then taken away as a single entity on a transporter.
With the fuselage as a whole now intact, the transporter vehicle then transfers it to Station 40 at the A350 FAL. Having entered this area as a complete fuselage, Airbus then attaches the wings to the aircraft. These components are 32 meters long and six meters wide. They are manufactured at Airbus’s UK factory in Broughton, Wales.
Station 40 also sees various smaller (but still vital) components attached to the rear of the increasingly complete aircraft. These include the horizontal and vertical tailplanes, and the tail cone. The first electrical power-on also takes place at this stage.
Further forward, the aircraft’s pylons are attached to the now connected wings. These components have the shortest journey, having been made in Toulouse itself. The final component to be attached at Station 40 is the main landing gear.
Finishing the job
With the landing gear attached, the growing A350 now moves to Station 30 for indoor ground tests. Cabin customization also takes place at this stage. Whether it’s a high-density French bee A350 or one of Singapore Airlines’ sparsely-populated A350-900ULRs, airlines always want an interior product that suits whatever their business model may be.
Next, the A350 moves on to Station 18 for outdoor ground tests, before hitting the paint shop to be adorned with the livery of its customer. The final stages of the assembly process take place at station 20 of the A350’s dedicated and suitably modern FAL.
Here, the aircraft receives its engines. These are not made by Airbus, but instead are Trent XWB powerplants from UK manufacturer Rolls-Royce. The cockpit is also furnished at this point, with aspects like seats being fitted. Overall, a lot of work goes into assembling an A350, but the end product, a beautiful and modern aircraft, is well worth the effort.