The production of the A380 is edging closer to being wound up, leaving Airbus with a spare bit of capacity to find a use for. Today, the European planemaker has revealed plans to convert the A380 line into a ‘digitally-enabled’ production line for the popular A321 range of aircraft.
The end of the A380 production is coming
The clock is ticking on the end of the A380 program. With eight left to be delivered to Emirates and just one remaining to deliver to ANA, it looks like we could be just months away from the winding up of the program.
Airbus previously said it would end the A380 production by 2021. Currently, the planemaker has the ability to produce the giant jumbo at a rate of four per month, so in theory, it could be all over before the spring. However, in reality, it doesn’t produce them anything like this fast, knocking out around two per month max for the past few months.
So, the very last A380 may not be delivered until late this year, or potentially even early 2021. Either way, there’s a short lifespan for the production of these megastructures, which begs the question, what will Airbus do with the production line once all the A380s are made?
From the A380 to the A321
Airbus has revealed today that it plans to convert the A380 production line to turn out its hot-selling narrowbody aircraft, the A321. Airbus says that this is to “keep its overall production system at the leading edge of technology and to increase industrial capacity and flexibility.”
Michael Schoellhorn, Airbus’ Chief Operating Officer, commented on the plan, saying,
“We are enjoying an unprecedented high demand for our winning A320neo Family and especially its A321 Long Range (LR) and Xtra Long Range (XLR) derivatives. In order to optimize the industrial flow, we have decided to increase our global A321 production capacity and flexibility as well as to establish a next generation Final Assembly Line in Toulouse.”
The planemaker estimates it will take until 2022 to fully install the new A321 facility. The digitally-enabled production line will be only the second final assembly line in Europe for the A321, after the current facility in Hamburg. The A321 is also assembled in Mobile, Alabama.
Although this is a step-change in the modernization of Airbus’ facilities, it doesn’t mean that there will be more aircraft produced. In fact, Airbus has noted that the overall narrowbody production rate at Toulouse will remain flat, despite the creation of this new facility.
Responding to market demand
It’s a sign of the times that the place that once made the world’s biggest passenger plane is now being turned over to making the world’s longest-range narrowbody jet. The A380, once considered the pinnacle of aerospace excellence, has fallen out of favor as the demand for point to point services has increased.
The A321XLR, launched at last year’s Paris Air Show, has been noted by Airbus to have already gathered more than 450 customer bookings. 22 operators around the world have, so far, placed orders for the type, which is expected to enter service in 2023.
Airbus had a fantastic 2019 for orders and deliveries, but also came under fire for slow deliveries. Hopefully, the repurposing of the A380 production line to support the A321 deliveries will help Airbus keep up with customer demand going forward.