Airbus agonise over A380 plant switch to A321

A380-MSN162-SKYMARK-ENGINE-FITTING---FRONT-VIEW

Nobody wants an A380 anymore and the thought of what to do with the truly gigantic facility at Toulouse-Blagnac in SW France that assembles A380’s is high on the agenda.

What everyone does want and Airbus can’t deliver fast enough, is the A321neo, LR and XLR.

Airbus are said to be discussing ways to deliver the aircraft more quickly, and high on the options list, with ready-trained and experienced staff, is moving A380 workers into an expanded A321 facility inside the soon to be redundant space.

Other sites are also being considered, including expanding deliveries from the US Mobile, Alabama facility and the Tianjin plant in China.

The likely outcome is to expand production at all three to a point, enough to meet local demand in the North America region and China, leaving the Toulouse facility to provide the rest.

Currently the Hamburg Finkenwerder site is responsible for most A321 production and tries to specialise in the new robotically assisted ACF – Airbus Cabin Flex programme. The idea is to provide airlines with near-bespoke cabin options, as quickly and efficiently as if they were standard fit, but it’s not been working as well as planned.

Airlines – IAG is especially vociferous, say that the delays on deliveries of the A321 are ‘simply unacceptable’ and their move to ordering 200 737 Max 8 and MAX 10’s is evidence of their displeasure.

The problem lies more deeply at the root of the way Airbus is structured. While a public company, both German and French Governments are very involved in who gets the work on what.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Part of the problem is that Hamburg has been promised the A320 successor – even though that’s still years away, and Toulouse was given the A350 in full on that basis. The A380 has been split mostly between the two sites.

Airbus is ramping up production for the A321 to meet demand, and it has added 950 new jobs to the Hamburg plant just to keep up with it, and that has assuaged the Germans. The problem lies in expanding the A321 production at Toulouse,  because the Germans see that as something that should happen at Hamburg.

However the cost of adding more space in Germany, when a truly vast facility and work force already exist in Toulouse and need to move on from the A380, makes more financial sense.

Assembly outside of Europe is little more than just that. These are segmented aircraft that only undergo the most advance stages of assembly at the US and Chinese plants, largely from kits that arrive from Europe.

The Americans – especially Boeing – may find that if Airbus builds even some or all of the aircraft parts – or fully assembled deliveries, from the A380 facility, that their claims of the A321/320 being subsidised can be re-vitalised. The A380 was the recipient of state subsidies, so therefore was the factory, and if the A321/320 is built in it too, therefore they too are being subsidised, even though the factory was built in 2004-5. It’s a spurious argument but Boeing will try anything and so will the Trump administration if it can find some sort of leverage.

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