Vital decisions have yet to be made on A3XX assembly Andrew Doyle/HAMBURG Julian Moxon/TOULOUSE


The location for final assembly of the A3XX remains the only major technical decision for the consortium following the 8 December decision to go ahead with a limited commercial offer to the airlines.

The original six potential assembly sites, at Toulouse, Hamburg, Seville, Rostock, St Nazaire and Peenemuende, were narrowed down to Toulouse and Hamburg several months ago. This was, perhaps, not surprising, given that Toulouse is responsible for the single-aisle A320 and all twin-aisle Airbuses, while Hamburg is the final assembly site for the remaining single-aisle aircraft.

The battle to be the host country for the A3XX has been long and hard, with both contenders fighting for the job not only for the kudos of building the world's largest airliner, but because of the jobs that will be created, plus the investment in related industries.

The two offer fundamentally different production systems. Toulouse would retain a similar assembly plan to that used today, with major subassemblies transported to the site for final assembly. DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa), on the other hand, proposes to build the aircraft from subassemblies carried direct to Hamburg by ship and delivered to a new site next to the river Polder. The site itself would be on reclaimed land across the river from where single-aisle assembly now takes place.

Putting on pressure

The city of Toulouse has put considerable pressure on the Airbus partners by offering to set up a huge aeronautical "park", centred on the A3XX assembly hall but aimed also at attracting other subcontractors. It hopes that the creation of an Airbus company will see less emphasis on national production sites, with the need for an efficient production system that would encourage manufacturers to relocate to Toulouse.

The A3XX offer, led by Aerospatiale Matra, is based on using the converted A300-600 Beluga transport to carry the top and bottom halves of the double-deck fuselage sections to the site. To simplify mating, these would be assembled as full-length sections and joined to create the entire fuselage.


The Beluga, however, is not big enough to transport the 35t A3XX wing, so Aerospatiale Matra proposes to carry single wings on top of a converted A340 fitted with a larger A330-200 fin to retain longitudinal stability. At the planned production rate of four aircraft a month, this would mean two rotations a week between the Chester, UK, production site and Toulouse. The alternative, shipping the wings by sea and transporting them by land to Toulouse, is rejected as not meeting the all-important "just in time" manufacturing system that will be at the heart of A3XX production.

Dasa says its plan would take just 5% of the A3XX workshare instead of the 10% it attributes to the Toulouse system, because the subassemblies taken to Hamburg could be larger - and at a more advanced stage of completion - and would have already been tested extensively.

Apart from economic considerations, however, Dasa is pressing for A3XX assembly, safe in the knowledge that, if it is unsuccessful, it can expect to be compensated with the transfer of A320 single-aisle production to Hamburg. Dasa assembles the A319 and A321 and has been chosen to build the new 107-seat A318. It has long coveted sole production responsibility for the Airbus single-aisle family. Whether Toulouse will be able to stomach the loss of the top-selling A320 in return for taking on the A3XX remains to be seen, however.

Industrial perspective

Dasa has come under fire from some quarters in Germany for its perceived failure to promote Hamburg aggressively, and the country's other A3XX candidate site at Rostock.

From the industrial perspective, Dasa insists that the availability of sea transport to deliver major subassemblies to the A3XX line makes the operation less complex. It says the French "piggyback" wing solution is unnecessary for the production system and excessively costly because it ties up an entire A340.

Dasa says the A3XX requires a final-assembly system based on a method with a long history - sea transport. The German company proposes the use of a single, $30 million, roll-on, roll-off ship making weekly round trips between Aerospatiale Matra's factory at St Nazaire, Chester and Hamburg, each time collecting all the subassemblies needed to produce one aircraft. Four rotations a month would meet the initial production rate target, it says.

Both contenders insist that the choice must have nothing to do with politics - the need for the most efficient, cheapest, final assembly solution is too important to allow the A3XX to be built at a location which reflects more on partner lobbying power than the need to ensure competitiveness.

Environmental considerations are also at the heart of the debate. The German Green party has made it clear that choice of the Hamburg site will be subject to intense scrutiny. The city of Toulouse promises simply that the new site will be built according to the "most stringent environmental considerations".

Source: Flight International