Its cavernous halls, 46m ceilings, and giant wall art depicting the superjumbo over the Pyrenees give more than a clue to its previous purpose, but Airbus’s former A380 Jean-Luc Lagardere plant in Toulouse is adjusting to its role as the newest and most technically advanced A320 family final assembly line (FAL).
The conversion – launched in 2020 but on hold for more than a year because of the pandemic – is part of the airframer’s effort to provide much needed capacity to build the A321. The largest variant represents more than half of Airbus’s A320 family backlog, with the latest iteration, the A321XLR, soon to begin production.
Airbus is taking time to iron out glitches with the new operation. After installing the first work stations to integrate fuselage sections in October last year, the manufacturer says the first A321 will roll out of the Jean-Luc Lagardere facility “sometime in 2023”.
The company admits it is cautious because of the number of new processes it is introducing. These range from robot drilling systems and all-digital documentation to 24 driverless forklifts that will deliver parts directly to work stations.
The plant – which will only build A321s – is the fifth factory and the ninth FAL for the narrowbody family, with four in Hamburg, two existing FALs in Toulouse, and one each in Mobile, Alabama and Tianjin, China.
Airbus says the new facility will replace one of its Toulouse FALs, but a planned second one in Mobile in 2025 will keep the total at nine. Only Hamburg and Mobile are currently set up to assemble the A321.
Unveiling the new assembly line to the media on 16 February, Airbus head of new A320 family FAL operations Marion Smeyers said the company was “writing another page in the history” of a type that was launched almost 40 years ago.
Airbus is “taking everything that works from other [A320 family] FALS in Toulouse, Tianjin, Mobile and Hamburg, and making it better”, she says.
“Everything has been designed with ergonomics first. Every feature has had the input of the people who will be operating the FAL.”
The Jean-Luc Lagardere facility will reach full capacity by 2025, according to Airbus, although the company is not specific about what the output division among the various FALs will be.
“A320 and A321 production will be split between the FALs in a balanced way,” Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said at the company’s annual results presentation on 16 February.
Airbus says it considered several potential sites for the new FAL but selected Toulouse “because of the opportunity to re-use existing A380 facilities”.
It has put the available space to good use – for instance, in one zone customers are able to see interior configurations arranged on the floor. This is important, says Airbus, because airlines are deploying longer-range versions of the A321 on routes previously served by widebodies, and including premium cabins and larger galleys.
However, almost half the 122,000sq m (1,310,000sq ft) facility, built for the in-development A380 in 2004, remains empty, raising the possibility that Airbus might introduce a second FAL there in the future.