Subassemblies produced at Airbus sites across Europe head for Toulouse for final assembly of initial aircraft

Subassemblies for the first batch of Airbus A380s are coming together at the manufacturer's plants across Europe, ahead of final assembly of the first aircraft, which is to begin in the middle of this year in Toulouse.

Late last year, the first 23m (75ft)-long centre fuselage (sections 15/21) was removed from its jig at the Airbus France plant in St Nazaire. It has been moved to another workstation for the attachment of the belly fairing. The fairing, which is 32m long, 10m wide and 4m high, is the largest such structure to be built for a civil aircraft, and is manufactured by Airbus Espana at the Puerto Real plant in southern Spain.

Assembly of the centre fuselage started in August and comprises seven main elements. These include two Airbus France-built components - the Nantes-produced centre wing box and the Meaulte-built main landing-gear bays. Alenia builds two elements in Italy - the forward lower shell and part of the upper shell; SABCA, Belgium, builds the central lower shell; while the floor grid is constructed by Sogerma in France.

Airbus Deutschland also produces part of the centre section upper shell. The centre section will undergo anti-corrosion treatment and systems installation aheadof delivery to the Toulouse final assembly line in the middle ofthe year.

Meanwhile, the first A380 cockpit (section 11), which is built at Meaulte, was joined to section 12 - the forward shell and Latecoere-built nose landing-gear bay - in St Nazaire during November. This will be attached to the German-built forward fuselage (section 13) which is being transported by ship from Airbus Deutschland's Hamburg Finkenwerder plant after equipping. The entire forward fuselage subassembly will then be transported to Toulouse by ship, barge and road, via Bordeaux.

Equipping of the rear fuselage (section 18) is also under way at Finkenwerder. The rear fuselage will also travel by ship to Bordeaux for onward barge and road transport to the Toulouse assembly line.

The first unpressurised aft fuselage segment (section 19), which is constructed from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic skin panels attached to a combination of composite and aluminium alloy frames, has been completed by Airbus Espana in Getafe. This is transported by Airbus A300-600 Beluga to Finkenwerder for attachment to the section 18 rear fuselage.

The first wing set was removed from its jig at Airbus UK's Broughton plant in November and is undergoing equipping. This involves the installation of hydraulic and fuel systems and wiring. It will then be painted and shipped to Toulouse in April.

Meanwhile, preparations are under way at A380 engine makers Rolls-Royce and General Electric-Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance. Five R-R Trent 900s are under test, with noise and crosswind trials being carried out at Hucknall in the UK. Delivery of engines to power the first A380 will take place towards the end of 2004. The first full-scale Engine Alliance GP7200 test engine is nearing completion in the USA, with trials to begin soon.

Source: Flight International