Article Written by James Field, with Contributions from Roberto Leiro, Daniel Sander, Thomas Saunders & Enrique Perrella

TOULOUSE – As part of the 25th-anniversary celebrations for Airways, Airbus invited us down for a special behind the scenes tour of its final assembly lines for the A350, A320 Family and A330 Family alike.

Our agenda for the day is very significant, especially with the focus on single-aisle twin-engine aircraft.

From 2021, after the Airbus A380 production ends, it will be the first time in 20 years that Airbus is only producing and working on twin-engined aircraft only.

We started with a visit to the mock-up center where there are huge-scale models of several Airbus program aircraft.

Unfortunately, as it is exclusive to the customers only, we were only allowed to take a photo from the outside.

The mock-ups were very significant in highlighting the different products onboard each aircraft as well as the different seat manufacturers too.

Looking at Airbus Now… Post-A380…

We then moved on to the Marketing Presentation, in which Airbus’ Head of Market Messaging Borna Vrdoljak and Franck Navallon in Single Aisle Product Marketing gave us a briefing on the programmes and how it is doing.

The presentation began with how aviation drives the global economy.

Over 65.5 million jobs are supported every year, supporting 61.9 million tonnes of freight and transporting 4.1 billion passengers annually which produces a global economic impact of $2.7 trillion.

On the Airbus side alone, it has a order book of 459.5bnEUR, with 64bnEUR in revenues thanks to the 133,000 in the workforce working hard on the backlog of 7,525 aircraft.

In total, 19,327 orders have been made for aircraft, 11,802 of which have been delivered already.

The commercial side sees a total of 411bnEUR orderbook, 41bnEUR of revenue from the commercial workforce of 80,900.

In terms of sales percentages, 31% represents Europe with the remaining 69% for the rest of the world.

The manufacturer has also been able to achieve significant emissions achievements in the last five decades.

For example, it has been able to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%, reduce NOx emissions by 90% and noise by 75%, showing a lot of progress on their side.

Industry firsts is another thing that Airbus takes pride in. It had the first twin engine widebody aircraft, the A300, the first full fly-by-wire commercial airliner, the first double decker A380 as well as being the first manufacturer to make extensive use of advanced materials and composites.

Vrdojlak conceded that the A380 production cancellation is sad and that the program was part of the reason why he joined the company.

Airbus still maintains itself to its global market forecast of 37,400 aircraft required due to the 4.4% annual growth between 2017 and 2037.

1,590 aircraft fall into the Xtra Large category like the A380, but as production will cease, it is likely we will see plenty of these aircraft spill into the Large category instead.

2018 has seen as reported 800 orders secured and 747 deliveries made, and even though it was a challenging year for Airbus, there were some significant firsts in the year.

For example, the first A220 to Delta, the first A350-1000 to Qatar Airways, the first A330neo to TAP, the first A321LR to Arkia as well as the first A350-900ULR to Singapore Airlines.

Vrdoljak then went on to discuss about the individual programs, even with the A380, however nostalgic it is going to be in two years time.

He said that the A380 was used to offer a unique passenger experience, designed to maximise profitability and was the best aircraft to capture growing traffic.

It covered over 60 destinations across 120 routes and continues to do so today. Passengers go out of their way to fly the aircraft.

Moving on to the current programs is the A350, securing 894 orders, 654 of which are in the backlog as of January 2019.

It offers 99.2% operational reliability and 99.89% engine dispatch reliability from over two million flight hours.

The A330 has had considerable success to, with 1,734 orders but only a backlog of 294.

The A330 was the most popular wide body ever and the new Airspace Cabin makes the perfect space for passengers and airlines alike.

Airspace goes very well with the likes of the A330neo and A350XWB as it offers a choice of nine or 10 abreast Economy seats, offers less noise than the competitors of the Boeing 787 and 777 as well as consistent design and same passenger experience.

The Airbus A320, as many people know is the most successful program out of the family so far. With 14,661 orders secured since its day, there is still a backlog for 6,023 units out of the 7,000+ total backlog.

Airbus has claimed this as “the most successful aircraft family ever”, so much so that through the Airspace Cabin refurbs, it offers Perfect space for passengers and airlines. It is still so much of a success today, meaning that Airbus invests up to 300 million EUR every year on the program.

The newest innovator to the Airbus family, the A220, formerly the CSeries has taken a total ordercount of 532 units, with 475 still in the backlog. Airbus classes this as a “radical innovator” that aims to provide superior single-aisle comfort with the highest efficiency and lowest risk.

The A220 surpasses the E190-E2 offering over 3,000 nautical mile range and offering nearly up to 120 seats.

The briefing then moved onto the full market coverage for single-aisle. The Family covers 100% of the single-aisle market meaning that none of the market spills over to the competitors and makes it harder for the likes of Boeing to thrive, especially with talks of NMA announcement delays and Airbus actually starting to take orders for the A321XLR.

Individual benefits for each aircraft are highlighted by Airbus in this briefing.

The A220-100 offers the lowest risk solution to growing regional airlines, and with the London City operational approval, it means point-to-point on smaller airports is achievable.

The A220-300 comes in more as a network builder and encourages growth and transitions from the -100.

Moving onto the A319, which may end up being replaced by the A220 is a “performance winner”, offering commonality with the A320 and A321.

The A320 is what Airbus calls “The Benchmark”, meaning the aircraft is ideal for Low Cost Carriers and its operations.

Finally, the A321 is known as the “Unrivalled Efficiency Leader”, meaning it is supposedly the best answer to very high density focused LCC ops.

These benefits of commonality does offer an element of being operated on the same network. As Swiss CEO Harry Hohmeister is exemplified in this briefing, it provides lower operating costs to carriers, especially through commonality training and higher efficiency. Furthermore, up to 90% of A220 airline customers will operate both aircraft families including the A320 also.

On the topic of efficiencies, Airbus placed some exemplifications with the A320 Family against the Boeing MAX line as well as the A220 against the E195-E2 variant.

The A319neo has a 4% better advantage than the MAX7, the A320neo 5% than the MAX8, the A321neo vs MAX9/10 also has better benefits of 8%.

In terms of the A220-100 versus the E190-E2 as well as the -300 versus the E195-E2, both have a 9% advantage over Embraer.

Airbus concluded with three elements that place Airbus to where they are in the market, which is efficiency, comfort and profitability.

As the A380 production line is killed off by 2021, it offers Airbus for the first time in two decades, a sole focus on the single-aisle market, meaning it can now condense and consolidate its strategy on the marketing front, especially when it comes to air show periods in Paris in June.

Final Assembly Lines (A330 & A350 Only)

Unfortunately, due to restrictions on photos, we were not allowed to take photographs on the A320 Final Assembly Line.

We can tell you that it is based in one of the oldest production hangars that have hosted the likes of Concorde and the Sud Caravelle.

A330 Production Line

The A330 Production Line works the same as the A350, except our timing was really good in the sense we got to see some of the FAL stages in action.

Photo: Daniel Sander
Photo: Daniel Sander

An element of the production we got to see was the middle part of the whole fuselage be moved from one side of the line to the other to join up with other stages of final assembly.

Photo: Daniel Sander

A350 Production Line

Photo: Author
Photo: Author

The A350 production line is quite significant in terms of its size.

Photo: Author

The A350FAL is the last main integrator of aircraft parts where they are subsequently joined up and is the same with A320 and A330FALs alike.

Photo: Thomas Saunders

This was quite the significant view, and the tour provided to us by Benjamin Fabre provided excellent views such as the different fuselage components as well as an explanation in how it all works.

Final Thoughts…

In-all, this was a fantastic way to begin proceedings for the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the magazine.

Through this, we were able to explore a lot more around the Airbus facility than we would normally be able to do at press events.

On the Airbus front itself, it seems that the process of marketing and selling is to change even more to single-aisle, especially as we look forward to Le Bourget in June.

Even if the A380 is dying out by 2021, it definitely remains clear that it will not stop the way Airbus innovates, especially going into the next decade.

Airways would like to thank Selene Vega Ruz, Borna Vrdoljak, Franck Navallon and the rest of the Airbus team for giving a further insight into the company.