Have you ever dreamt of discovering an aircraft assembly line ? Airbus makes it real by proposing you different tours in its French plants of Toulouse and Nantes. As I am personally fascinated by the Airbus A380, I obviously made the choice to make a tour in this aircraft’s final assembly line in Toulouse. This was (already) more than one year ago, in October 2010. A great experience I want to share with you in this article !
Taxiway is the company which is in charge of the tours in Toulouse. They propose different alternatives on their website « Let’s visit Airbus » :
– The Airbus A380 tour, in three steps you will discover in this article;
– The Panoramic tour : bus tour with commentary through the sites (HQ, design offices, cabine equipping, delivery centre, assembly line…); it is certainly interesting but you will stay in the bus;
– The Heritage tour with the Caravelle, the Concorde et the A300B you can visit.
They all last approximately 1h30 and cost between 8,50€ and 14€ for adults. You also have the possibility to combine two or three tours. Here is the website if you look for further information : http://www.taxiway.fr/
So now, let’s come to the tour !
We are directly in the atmosphere with the announcement of the guide : « Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please, we are now ready for the boarding of the A380 Tour ! ».
The first step of the tour takes place in a telemetric room. Here are given some technical information about the aircraft while we attend with a lot of screens to the first flight of the A380 of the 27th April 2005. We can have a look at the cabin with the pilots, at the different indicators of the aircraft (speed, altimeter, …), at the camera placed on the chase plane (the plane which flies alongside the aircraft to make some videos and to check that everything is going the way it should)… You really have the feeling to live this moment again.
After this, it is time to begin the second step of the tour. We get on the bus which will drive us through the Airbus site. Of course, for security reasons, we are not allowed to make any picture in the plant. After having been controlled, the bus goes through the gate.
And after a few seconds, there we are. The Jean-Luc Lagardère plant. Two gigantic hangars on the facade of which there is a big poster with an A380 picture. No doubt, we are on the right place ! We get off the bus and discover, a few hundred meters from us, 3 parked A380s. They are waiting there to be tested (engines…). Only the empennage wears the colors of the airline which will receive it in some weeks. I recognize liveries of Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. But it is already time to come in the building to discover the assembly line.
Before taking the lift which will bring us on the last floor of the building to have a panoramic view of the plant, we stay on the ground floor where walls tell the story of the aircraft and from where each part of the plane comes. Airbus is indeed well-known for being an aircraft constructor which has plants all over Western Europe. Each country is specialized in producing some parts of the aircraft.
Each part then comes toToulouse (by plane with the famous Airbus « Beluga » or also by road or boat for the wings for example) where they are all assembled together. After these explanations, we take the lift. It takes almost 5 minutes to arrive on the last floor as the building is very high (45 meters). When the doors of the lift open, you are directly in front of the panoramic view of the plant. It is definitely impressive as, first of all, the hangar is gigantic but also secondly because you have just in front of you 3 A380s. For visitors’ eyes, it looks like the aircraft is almost fully assembled. But all over it, some of the 3000 employees of the plant are working. And they seem so little from our height and compared to the plane ! The hangar is so big that even if you want to see every details, you cannot. The only picture I could find for you to realise it, is this one :
The guide explains us that the two hangars of the Jean-Luc Lagardère plant (the visit is only in one of them) are actually exactly identical. The first one is to assemble the fuselage and the wings while the second, which we visit, is to prepare the interior (create the cabin for pilots for example) of the aircraft. At the end of this stage, as you can see on the picture, the aircraft has no engine. In fact 1/3 of the aircraft price comes from the 4 engines this is why they are assembled at the very end of the final assembly line. The next step for the aircraft is to go through a lot of tests to be ready to fly to Hamburg where all the fitting (seats, IFE (In-flight Entertainement) …) and painting will be realized. The time needed to assemble one A380 is one week while tests will take three weeks. The aicraft stays then one month in Toulouse. Even if each part of the aircraft has already been tested on its production site, they will be all retested to be sure that electronic and hydraulic systems work when they are all together.
Each of the two hangars can welcome 4 aircrafts, which means that the company can work on 8 aircrafts at the same time. But wait, 4? Then why do we only see 3? The reason is that what we consider as the end of the plant is actually a firewall. On the other side, there is one more aircraft. Of course, it is to minimize losses if for any reason, a fire starts.
After having seen how the aircraft is finally assembled, we go out of the plant and of the Airbus site for the third step to visit a model of the aircraft, scale 1:1. It is 16m long, with the double-deck. The configuration corresponds to what you would find in a real aircraft so that you can have the volumes in mind. For having flown several times with a Boeing 747, I was surprised by the space available on the upper deck. Unfortunately, here again, no picture possible.
And the tour ends then in the Airbus shop where fans can find a lot of different objects or clothes related to the company.
The tour was really interesting even if we can regret not to be allowed to make picture but that is obviously for security and privacy reasons we can easily understand. I have good memories of the visit as it is exceptional to see an aircraft in an assembly line and even if you are not an aviation geek, I am sure you would appreciate it !