The manufacture of an Airbus aircraft involves millions of individual parts which are sourced from across the globe.
Airbus operates a multitude of manufacturing plants around the world and twelve final assembly lines across five global locations. Unlike Boeing which carries out final assembly only in the USA, Airbus has multiple final assembly plants outside its home continent, as well as in Europe.
In this article, I take a look at where and how Airbus assembles its aircraft. I’ll also set out which aircraft families are built at each Airbus final assembly plant.
How Airbus Manufactures Its Aircraft
The various Airbus manufacturing sites each produce and/or assemble different parts of the aircraft. These parts and components are then shipped to a specific final assembly line. Airbus-owned manufacturing plants produce roughly 80% of the parts and components needed for the manufacture of an Airbus aircraft.
The huge variety of parts made at these plants ranges from basic metallic parts such as tubes, pipes, panels, and floors, to more functional parts such as wing flaps and slats, tailplanes, and the pylons that connect the engines to the wings.
Once manufactured, these small parts and components are shipped to sites where large sections of the aircraft are assembled in five sections:
- Forward section
- Center fuselage
- Rear section
These large sections are then moved to a designated final assembly line, and working in parallel, the aircraft cabins, seats, and engines also make their way to the designated final assembly line.
Airbus Component Manufacturing Plants
The majority, but not all, of the Airbus design and manufacturing plants that make aircraft parts, components, and sections are located in Europe, in Germany, France, the UK, and Spain.
In Germany, Airbus has five locations that manufacture parts:
- Hamburg: In addition to the A320 final assembly, A320 fuselage sections are also manufactured and equipped here. This highly automated fuselage structure assembly line is responsible for joining single fuselage shells into sections. Some of the fuselage sections produced at Hamburg are shipped to other A320 Family final assembly lines. The Hamburg site also plays a key role in the A330 and A350 programs, manufacturing and equipping forward and rear fuselage sections. Other functions performed at the Hamburg facility include cabin design and systems integration.
- Bremen: There are two plants located here that are responsible for wing design, manufacture, and integration.
- Stade: This is where vertical tailplanes (stabilizers) are produced. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts, such as flaps and spoilers for the A320 and the A330 are also manufactured here, as well as major fuselage and wing components for the A350.
- Buxtehude: this factory is responsible for electronic communication and cabin management systems onboard the aircraft.
- Donauwörth: This facility’s primary focus is helicopters, however, it also manufactures aircraft doors, producing around 80% of all doors used on Airbus aircraft.
In France, Airbus has three component manufacturing locations:
- Toulouse: There are various Airbus facilities here, all close to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. The main Airbus facility is responsible for final assembly of both narrowbody and widebody aircraft, design and testing, passenger cabin outfitting, aircraft painting, and crew and engineer training. The nearby Saint-Eloi site is where engine pylons used to integrate engines to wings are manufactured. The Henri Ziegler Delivery Center, the Lycée Airbus, and the base for the Airbus Beluga fleet (see below), are also located close to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.
- Saint-Nazaire: This is where the front and center fuselage sections are equipped and tested for all Airbus aircraft. There are two production sites specializing in assembly and testing of the forward sections for the A320 Family, as well as the forward and center sections of the A330. Sub-assemblies come from French, European, and worldwide partners. After assembly, the fuselage sections are equipped before being tested and transported by Beluga to final assembly lines in Europe.
- Nantes: This is where center wing boxes are produced and assembled for all Airbus aircraft. This plant is also responsible for the production of carbon fiber reinforced plastic parts that are used in structural assembly. Other parts/components manufactured at this plant include radomes that protect radars onboard the aircraft, ailerons for the A330, air inlets on nacelles for the A350, A320neo CFM International LEAP-1A, and A330neo engines, and A330 ailerons.
In the UK, Airbus has two locations:
- Broughton, Wales: This site is an Airbus global center of excellence responsible for the manufacture, assembly, and equipping of the wings for all Airbus aircraft, producing around 500 wing sets per year.
- Filton: This is where wings, landing gear, and fuel systems are designed and tested. Airbus staff here also work on aerodynamics research, development and testing, including Airbus’ future zero-emissions program (ZEROe).
Lastly, in in Spain, Airbus produces parts in three different locations:
- Getafe: This site is responsible for the manufacture of aircraft fuselages, and the building and testing of horizontal tailplanes for all Airbus aircraft. In addition, this plant manufactures the rear fuselage of the A350.
- Illescas: Not far from Getafe, this location focuses on the production of composite components, in particular large-scale parts such as the lower cover of the A350 wings. The site also manufactures some rear fuselage sections and internal skins of the A350 wings.
- Puerto Real: This plant is responsible for assembly of various moveable surfaces such as rudders and spars for all Airbus aircraft. Puerto Real also manufactures large structural components such as the A350 XWB’s horizontal tailplane boxes.
To complete the supply chain, Airbus also has parts manufactured in other parts of the world, outside of Europe.
For instance, since 2009, A320 rudders are made at the Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre (HMC) located in Harbin, China – an integrated part of Airbus’ global supply chain. This is a joint venture between Airbus and Chinese partners, including AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry Group Co. Ltd.
The rudders manufactured at the HMC are sent to the Airbus facility in Stade, Germany, where they are fixed to the A320 vertical stabilizers, and then delivered to A320 final assembly lines around the world.
Airbus Final Assembly Lines
Airbus’ biggest aircraft assembly facility is in Toulouse, France, which assembles Airbus’ widebody, and some narrowbody aircraft.
The final assembly of Airbus’ narrowbody aircraft is quite diversified allowing it to cater to local markets and create a more global presence. Separate assembly line facilities in Tianjin, China, and Mobile, USA, target the Chinese and US markets, respectively.
The twelve Airbus final assembly lines, spread across five separate locations, are listed below:
Toulouse (4 lines)
The multi-functional Airbus facilities located at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport include the company’s global headquarters.
There are also two final assembly lines for the single-aisle A320 Family, along with one each for the widebody A330 and A350 aircraft. Toulouse was also the final assembly line for the A380 which is no longer in production.
Hamburg, Germany (4 lines)
The Airbus facility adjacent to Hamburg – Finkenwerder Airport is the headquarters for Airbus Commercial Aircraft in Germany, and the biggest Airbus location in Germany. It is also the third-largest civil aviation industry site in the world.
The Hamburg facility plays a very key role in dealing with structural assembly, the equipping of fuselage sections, and the final assembly of A320 aircraft. This facility is responsible for more than half of Airbus’ annual A320 Family output, and also oversees the entire A320 Family’s program management.
There are four A320 Family final assembly lines at the Hamburg facility. The fourth line was inaugurated in 2018.
Tianjin, China (1 line)
A320 Family aircraft are assembled in Tianjin, China, for deliveries to Asian airlines. This final assembly facility was opened by Airbus in 2008.
The Tianjin final assembly line is a joint venture between Airbus and a consortium of the Tianjin Free Trade Zone (TJFTZ) and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC). By October 2020 the facility had delivered 500 aircraft.
In 2017, Airbus opened a Completion and Delivery Centre (C&DC) for the A330 also at Tianjin, marking Airbus’ first widebody center outside of Europe. This facility performs A330 completion activities including cabin installation, aircraft painting, production flight tests, customer acceptance, and aircraft delivery.
Mobile, Alabama, USA (2 lines)
Mobile is the home of final assembly lines for the A320 Family and A220 aircraft for customers based in North America.
The Mobile facility is the first commercial aircraft production site for Airbus in the USA and was opened in 2015. The A320 Family final assembly line can produce around 60 aircraft each year.
In January 2019, Airbus held a ground-breaking ceremony for its new A220 manufacturing facility in Mobile, using the same supply chain as for aircraft assembled at Mirabel (see below). A220 assembly at Mobile began in August 2019, and this final assembly line can produce around 40 to 50 A220 aircraft each year.
Mirabel, Quebec, Canada (1 line)
Mirabel is Airbus’ primary A220 final assembly facility. The A220 was originally known as the Bombardier C-Series and the Mirabel production facility belonged to Bombardier. However, following the purchase of the Bombardier C-Series project by Airbus, the Mirabel final assembly line is now operated by Airbus.
The first delivery of an A220 aircraft to a US-based airline – Delta Airlines – took place in October 2018; the first of 90 A220s ordered by Delta.
A key player within Airbus’ huge global logistics operation is the Beluga (Airbus A300-600ST – Super Transporter).
The Beluga is a variant of the A300-600 that has been modified to carry aircraft parts and other large items of cargo. Following certification in 1995, five Beluga aircraft were built.
The Beluga fleet’s main task is to carry Airbus components and parts to the various final assembly lines. Airbus sells spare capacity in its Beluga fleet to third-party customers, and the Belugas are notable for carrying a variety of special loads, including space station components, large and delicate artworks, industrial machinery, whole helicopters, and humanitarian aid.
The Beluga’s freight compartment is 7.4m (24ft) in diameter and 37.7m (124ft) long, with a maximum payload of 47 tonnes.
In 2014, Airbus announced the development of a larger, replacement Beluga variant – the BelugaXL – based on the Airbus A330-200. The plan is to retire the existing Beluga fleet by 2025. The first BelugaXL entered service in 2020.
The BelugaXL provides a 1m (3ft) wider cross-section compared to the original Beluga, and a 12% increase in payload. The BelugaXL was designed primarily for carrying A350 parts and can transport two A350 wings simultaneously.
Airbus intends to manufacture a total of five BelugaXL aircraft to replace the existing five Belugas.
Airbus designs, manufactures, tests, and delivers aircraft. It also produces a lot of the parts and components that together make up a complete aircraft.
Airbus relies on an extensive, complex, and integrated global supply chain feeding into the final assembly of its aircraft at various final assembly lines located in Europe, North America, and China, where Airbus stitches all the components together to make complete and fully functioning aircraft ready for testing, acceptance, and delivery.
You might also want to read about where Boeing builds its planes.