Road Trip 2011: Just across from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, the biggest passenger plane in the world is assembled in the biggest industrial building in Europe. CNET got to see it up close.
A380 nose section
BLAGNAC, France--It may not be the longest passenger plane in the world, or necessarily the most famous. But the Airbus A380 is unquestionably the biggest: a true double-decker airplane that can carry more passengers than any other commercial plane in the sky.
Built to carry 525 passengers in a standard 3-class configuration, the A380 is a behemoth of a plane that Airbus says today leads the industry in cost per seat mile. While other airliners may be seen as rivals, "you have to have [an] A380 to compete with an A380," Airbus says.
As part of CNET Road Trip 2011, reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the A380 final assembly line in this airport town just outside Toulouse, France. While the major components of the plane--the fuselage, wings, tail, tail fins, and more, are manufactured at Airbus facilities elsewhere, they are shipped to, and assembled, here.
What emerges from this factory, which Airbus says is the largest industrial building in Europe, is a massive airplane, one that has been flown--or at least ordered--by 18 different customers, including 11 of the world's top 20 largest.
This is the nose section of an A380 being built in what is known as Station 40, at the facility in Blagnac.
Two A380s that have been fully assembled sit on the tarmac outside the final assembly factory in Blagnac, France. The planes have not yet had their carrier livery painted on--that will be done after they are flown to Hamburg, Germany, where the customers will pick up their new planes. The tails have been modified in this photograph so as not to reveal the planes' customers.
Seen from across the giant Airbus assembly facility near Toulouse, France, an A380 is being constructed at what is known as Station 40. The plane's major components--its fuselage, wings, tail, tail fins, and more--are joined together at one large station. It's a different system than the one used at rival Boeing, where planes move down a line to have their major components added.
In the foreground of this photograph is an A380 wing resting just above the ground. In the background, we see another wing elevated. The one on the ground is being stored here for the next A380, while the one in the background is already part of one of the giant planes that is currently being built.
Above, on the ceiling, are two large cranes that are used to hoist major plane components, like these wings, into place.
The A380's wings are big enough that they can hold the plane's air conditioning packs. That, says Airbus, is an advantage over most other large planes because the packs don't have to be stored in the A380's belly fairing. That, in turn, means the plane's fuselage is more streamlined than it would otherwise be, reducing its drag.
After the major components of an A380 are joined together at Station 40, the plane is backed out of the assembly building and brought back in again at what is called Station 30. There, the plane has all its interior systems installed, as well as its engines added. Here, we see an A380 that is at Station 30.
This is the pylon for a left-side wing A380 engine. It is the only major A380 component that is actually made in Toulouse, France. While the plane is assembled there--actually, in nearby Blagnac--most of its components are built in Airbus facilities in England, Germany, and Spain.
These tracks in the floor allow the rear side of the jig to move as the assembly process requires. The front section of the jig--from the nose until the wings--is stationary, while the rear section can move on these tracks.
This A380, seen from the right side, is at Station 30, meaning it has already had all its exterior components added, and crews are now installing the plane's interior systems--hydraulics, avionics, wiring, doors, and cockpit.
Each A380 at Station 30 is hoisted about 1.5 meters off the ground to have its landing gear installed. Once the landing gear is joined with the plane, it can be lowered down to rest on its own weight. Here, we see one of the planes still hoisted off the ground.