Julian Moxon/PARIS

The new chief of Aerospatiale's aeronautics division, Jean-Francois Bigay, has added to the controversy over the location of the new assembly line for the Airbus A3XX by pitching strongly to set up a plant at the existing Toulouse location.

Aerospatiale is responsible for the final assembly of all Airbus models except for the A319 and A321, which are built by Daimler Chrysler Aerospace Airbus at Hamburg. Large subassemblies are ferried to the two lines from the Airbus partners and suppliers by Airbus A300-600-based Beluga Super Transporters.

Airbus is studying two production methods for the A3XX, and aims to decide on the location in the coming months to enable it to move forward with the launch of the 480/660-seat family.

One proposal uses the existing "light" final assembly system where the subassemblies are bolted together on the line, but the A3XX components will be too large for the Beluga. These will require sea transportation, necessitating a new assembly plant on the coast. If the Beluga is to be used for transportation, smaller components will have to be moved, with a more complex, or "heavy", final assembly process required, although an existing site could be used. A larger version of the Beluga is also known to be under study.

Bigay says that, because the Beluga is too small to accommodate complete A3XX fuselage sections and wings, a "heavy" production system must be set up. "Toulouse is the most obvious place to build this aircraft," he says. He has rejected proposals for alternative "light" sites, including Rostok in Germany, St Nazaire in France, and Seville in Spain, since they "-do not have the experience", he says.

Aerospatiale envisages the transportation of smaller A3XX parts by Beluga to Toulouse, where the sections would be assembled in three main stations before final assembly of the aircraft.

Because there would be far more smaller components to assemble into the major sections, Toulouse would receive considerably more work per aircraft than under the current system, where it assembles only major sections.

Although there is existing infrastructure at Toulouse, sources at Aerospatiale concede that a major new building would be needed to accommodate assembly of the A3XX, and that "strong financial incentives" are being offered by the other candidates.

Source: Flight International