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Production of the Airbus A380 is a highly-efficient operation conducted across the company's global supply chain and manufacturing facilities. From the innovative design of individual components to the complex assembly of the finished product, Airbus' years of experience has seen the A380 become a high performance, comfortable and economical commercial aircraft. So how is it made?
CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE
Airbus’ Centres of Excellence (CoE) are responsible for key production areas including fuselage and cabin, wing and pylon, aft fuselage and empennage, and aerostructures. Airbus’ key manufacturing facilities in Hamburg and Toulouse work closely to ensure customer requirements are met.
Hamburg is home to Airbus’ development centre for cabin centres, and a cabin innovation, design and test centre. Toulouse serves key functions including engineering and procurement as well as the design, manufacture and repair of nose and centre fuselage components. Together, these two facilities share responsibility for the definition, electrical pre-design, installation design and installation of electrical harnesses, avionics racks, power centres, and cockpit panels as well as manufacturing the fuselage and cabin.
CoEs also liaise and work closely with Airbus' Core Functions unit who handle procurement, HR, engineering, as well as quality and customer services “to ensure all employees share knowledge and express ideas.”
TRANSPORT OF MAJOR AIRCRAFT SECTIONS
Due to the unique size and nature of the A380's sections, Airbus has developed its own transportation system to airlift these pieces from production locations to final assembly lines by a fleet of five A300-600ST Super Transporters. The A380's fuselage and wing sections are shipped via a surface transportation network which includes specially-commissioned roll-on roll-off ships.
The final production stage is possible thanks to Airbus’ huge assembly facility that provides 150,000 square metres of space for its flagship double-decker aircraft. The A380 arrives in six sections on six trucks; front fuselage, central fuselage, aft fuselage, tailplane and both wings. Each of these components is uploaded by self-propelling vehicles and taken to the assembly line.
The assembly process takes place on a single combined station where all operations are carried out, except for the A380's engine installation. As the engine represents a third of the aircraft's value, these are one of the last components to be fitted in order to reduce inventory cost.
When all sections are in the right position, an enormous scaffold called a tool fit surrounds the aircraft to assemble the three fuselage sections, the wings, the horizontal and vertical stabilisers, engine pylons, landing gear and electric racks.
PAINTING AND CABIN FURNISHING
Painting and cabin furnishing takes approximately 10 days to complete - nine days of preparation and one day of actual painting. As the Airbus A380 has a surface area of around 3,150 metres squared, 500kg of paint is needed for the aircraft to just be covered in white. To assess the paint colour which has a thickness of 0.12 millimetres, 4,200 fluorescent lights are used to check the covering. Overall, it takes around 30 people to paint an Airbus A380.
Each Airbus A380 cabin is designed and fitted according to customer specifications. Cabin configurations vary from the luxurious interiors of the Airbus Corporate Jet, to a business class layout, or even an all-economy seating arrangement for low-cost carriers.
TEST PROGRAMME AND CERTIFICATION
“Before reaching series production, Airbus aircraft programmes undergo a complex, rigorous flight test and certification campaign. Once approved and certified, the aircraft is cleared for take-off for the entirety of its lifetime," says Airbus.
The Airbus A380's structural static tests include Flight Test Installation (FTI) calibration test, maximum wing bending at limit load, ailerons and spoilers functioning test during max wing bend, fuselage pressure test, fatigue tests, and flight cycles simulation. To re-create actual flight conditions for the fatigue test, a combination of loads is placed on the airframe and is activated by 184 computer-operated hydraulic jacks. The initial A380 testing accumulated a total of 47,500 flight cycles, equivalent to two and a half times the number of flights it would make in 25 years.
The A380's test campaign comprised of 2,500 hours of flying to achieve The ‘Type Certificate’ followed by the ‘Airworthiness Certificate’ in both Europe and the US. The test campaign assesses general handling qualities, operational performance, airfield noise emission and systems operation in normal mode, failure scenarios and extreme conditions.
Once the test programme is complete and certification has been awarded, the A380 is delivered to the customer where it undergoes further tests by the airline carrier and the Airbus Delivery team.