Airbus’ upcoming Extra Long Range single-aisle narrowbody aircraft, the A321XLR, is expected to disrupt the status quo of long-haul travel. With a range of up to 8,700 kilometers (4,700 NM), it is not for nothing it has been heralded as a ‘game-changing’ aircraft. Airbus commenced the structural assembly of its new plane in May this year – but just where is it all taking place?
Any aircraft built today is a tale of multiple sites and countries. Innumerous components come together from all over the world to create the engineering marvels that are the foundations of modern commercial-scale air travel. Airbus has long brought the various parts of its airplanes to its Final Assembly Lines (FAL) from all across Europe and beyond. The trek of the A380 to its FAL in Toulouse will always remain a logistics legend.
While transporting the parts of Airbus’ potentially revolutionizing narrowbody A321XLR may not need quite the same considerations (especially fortified roads through the French countryside), bringing them all together to form a plane still requires some operational planning.
Wings from Broughton
The wings of the A321XLR are built and equipped where all Airbus wings are (with the exception of the A220) – in the planemaker’s Broughton facilities in Wales in the UK. The Broughton plant has a long history in British aviation, dating back some 80 years, and is home to 6,000 Airbus employees.
First CWB left Nantes in April
Meanwhile, the forward sections of the plane, up to and including the center wing box, are made in France. The nose fuselage, forward fuselage, and section 14A are all constructed in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast, with parts arriving from domestically and abroad.
Airbus commenced the assembly of the first nose and front fuselages at the beginning of July. Saint-Nazaire is home to a little over 3,000 Airbus employees and assembles, equips, and tests the forward sections of the entire A320 family.
The radome, air inlet, and center wing box (CWB) are produced a little further inland along the Loire at Airbus’ facilities in Nantes. Delivery of the very first CWB from Nantes to Hamburg took place in April this year. Spokespeople for the A321XLR project and the CWB construction stated at the time that,
“The CWB is always the first major component on each new aircraft development to be produced, so we must mature its design very early and manage its interdependencies with fuel systems, load calculations, as well as physical interfaces to the airframe aerostructure components developed in France, Germany and the UK.”
The German chapter
From the center fuselage and back, it’s nearly all Germany. As previously stated, the flaps come out of Bremen, a facility that sits at the crossroads of Airbus’ commercial aircraft and defense and space activities. The vertical tail fin of the A321XLR is produced in the old Hanseatic city of Stade, located by the Elbe between Hamburg and the coast.
The center fuselage, aft fuselage, rear center tank, and rear fuselage are all made in Airbus’ facilities in Hamburg, with components arriving from subcontractors such as Premium AEROTEC in Augsburg. Structural assembly of the first center and rear fuselages began in May this year. Martin Schoor, Head of the A321XLR development program, commented,
“It’s a major milestone for the A321XLR programme. The teams can be proud of this achievement and the overall speed of industrialization. We are on track with our planning. The pilot line dedicated to the A321XLR is ready and waiting to operate the assembly phases for the first flight test aircraft, all the way through to the entry into service.”
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The tailplane from Spain
Airbus’ plants in Spain bring up the rear with the tail cone and horizontal tailplane made in Getafe, close to Madrid. The location also used to be the home of the A380 horizontal stabilizers before the Giant of the Skies went out of production.
The A321XLR is scheduled to enter service in 2023, with test flights planned for next year. Airbus has already received orders for over 450 of the jets, with American Airlines and United Airlines set to become its major operators out of the gate.