New A350 assembly plant to re-invent Airbus’ build process

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Construction of Airbus' A350 XWB final assembly facility in Toulouse officially started today with the promise of delivering significant efficiencies to the airframer's production process.

The purpose-built €140 million ($184 million) final assembly line (FAL) will be located adjacent to the existing A320 and A330/A340 plants, and will be staffed by 1,000 people when it is fully operational.

Speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony in Toulouse today, Airbus VP for A350 customer and business development Francois Caudron said: "Delivery of the facility is due by the third quarter of 2010. Final assembly of the first A350 will begin in 2011."

The new twinjet is due to perform its first flight in early 2012, with deliveries scheduled to begin to launch customer Qatar Airways in mid-2013.

Once completed, the L-shaped A350 assembly hall will have an area of 74,000m² (796,500f²) and will be used for fuselage section join-up, wing attachment and initial cabin integration, using a new a streamlined final assembly concept.

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders says the plant will be capable of producing more than 10 aircraft a month.

Sub-assemblies for the A350 will be delivered to the FAL from the other plants by A300-600 Beluga freighters. Airbus says the revised assembly process will reduce the time from the start of final assembly to delivery by 30% compared with the A330/A340, to around 2.5 months. This is achieved by starting cabin furnishing earlier in the process, in parallel with final assembly.

Under existing processes A330/A340 production is sequenced so that structural assembly is followed by power-on and then the aircraft moves to another station for interior installation and completion.

On the A350 power-on will occur ahead of wing join-up, allowing cabin integration to begin in parallel with the remainder of the assembly process. This will enable all the major cabin monuments to be pre-positioned in the aircraft sections before they are joined.

Once assembly and initial cabin installation is complete, aircraft will move to the existing A330/A340 furnishing building for the remainder of the cabin equipping process and aircraft testing.