As part of its overall strategy to modernise and add flexibility to its single-aisle production system, Airbus continues to invest in next-generation industrial means in order to meet market demand and customer expectations. This includes more flexibility for the assembly of the market-leading A321neo.
Airbus continues to work on tomorrow’s industrial system
The A320neo Family is the world’s best-selling single aisle with over 15,500 aircraft sold to more than 320 customers, and over 5,650 in backlog. Within that family, the A321 - the long-range, high-capacity variant of the A320 - represents today over 50% of the total order backlog for this family of aircraft, with close to 3000 aircraft to be delivered over the coming years.
As the popular proverb goes: with great power comes great responsibility. In order to keep its production system at the forefront of new technologies and meet expectations of its customers for quality, competitiveness and on-time delivery, Airbus is constantly reviewing ways to modernise and improve its production system.
To date, Hamburg - a true single-aisle centre of gravity within Airbus, with four final assembly lines (FAL) for the A320 Family - as well as Mobile (Alabama) are the only sites in the Airbus production system ready to assemble the A321. This is why, in order to meet customer demand for this increasingly popular variant of the A320 Family, Airbus had decided in January 2020 to modernise its production system for single-aisle aircraft by transforming the former A380 Lagardère facility in Toulouse into a new-generation A320 Family FAL which would be capable of assembling A321s, therefore bringing more flexibility to Airbus’ global industrial set-up.
At the time, all potential Airbus sites were considered and assessed, and the choice of the best location for this new FAL was made based on many criteria. The objective was to ensure that this new site could be operational quickly enough to meet customer demand, to guarantee the highest levels of competitiveness and to minimise the levels of investment required to set up this new facility. Toulouse was eventually selected as the best site, notably because of the opportunity to re-use existing A380 facilities and because of its integration into the overall Airbus industrial flow.
Keeping the production system at the forefront of new technologies
But COVID-19 struck, and with it came the worst crisis the aviation industry had ever had to manage. Plans to overhaul the A320 production system in Toulouse were “hibernated”, and the immediate priority shifted to adapting production rates to the brutal drop in demand and reducing overall output by around 40%.
With market recovery now in sight and a potential return to pre-COVID single-aisle rates between 2023 and 2025, Airbus teams can focus again on the long-term and are reconnecting to earlier plans to establish this new A320 Family FAL in Toulouse. Earlier this year, a supplier was selected by Airbus to design and implement this new-generation FAL, which should be operational by end 2022 and which will replace one of the existing, original A320 FALs in Toulouse.
Leveraging best-in class digital technologies, tools and processes, this modernised FAL will complement Hamburg’s A321 capabilities and improve the working conditions, overall industrial flow, quality and competitiveness by adding a new-generation assembly line to the Airbus single-aisle production system. It will also support production flexibility for the next-generation A321XLR, first deliveries of which are expected to take place from 2023 in Hamburg - helping to meet customer requirements and make the best-selling single-aircraft family even better.