Airbus A350 XWB program reaches developmental milestone

The 797,000-sq-ft facility will be used to join the fuselage and wings of the composites-intensive A350 XWB.

Construction has begun in Toulouse, France on the final assembly line for the composites-intensive Airbus A350 XWB. Airbus announced the news Jan. 14, reporting that the 74,000-sq-m (797,000-sq-ft) facility will house the first stages of final assembly, specifically, the joining of the fuselage and wings. A new, streamlined aircraft assembly process will enable teams to work in parallel, reducing the time from start of final assembly to aircraft delivery by 30 percent. The aircraft will be tested and its cabin will be equipped nearby at the existing A330/340 facility.

The €140 million ($176.3 million USD) facility will provide work for more than 1,000 people when fully operational, and it is expected to be the most eco-efficient final assembly hall owned by Airbus. A “shovel” ceremony at the site (photo at right) highlighted the fact that the concrete foundations of replaced buildings will be recycled and reused in the new facility. Additionally, roof-mounted photo-voltaic panels will supply much of the building’s electricity.

Scheduled for first delivery in 2013, the A350 XWB has attracted 478 orders from 29 Airbus customers.
Airbus announced on Jan. 30 that its parent firm, EADS (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), executed a deal with Chinese firm Avicopter (Harbin, China) to produce carbon fiber composite structures for the XWB, although specific parts were not identified. The joint venture agreement, including Avicopter’s plan to build a facility in Harbin, was signed during a recent visit to Spain by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (Spain has a 5 percent stake in EADS). The Jan. 30 signing follows the previous signing of a memorandum of understanding between Airbus and China to build 5 percent of the A350’s airframe in China.

In related news, Airbus placed a five-year blanket order in December 2008 with KUKA Robotics (Augsburg, Germany) for the delivery of 41 omniMove mobile platforms, which will be used in the French, British, German and Spanish Airbus factories for subassembly of the A350 XWB’s wings and fuselage sections. The omniMove precision mobile platforms feature a flexible horizontal range of motion in all directions, and a specially designed wheel system makes them maneuverable in tight spaces.

Meanwhile, Spirit AeroSystems (Wichita, Kan.) said on Jan. 14 that it has ordered a large autoclave from Thermal Equipment Corp. (Rancho Dominguez, Calif.) for use in the manufacture of structural components for the A350. The autoclave, with a working envelope 22 ft/6.7m in diameter by 80 ft/24.4m long, will be built on-site at Spirit’s new facility in Kinston, N.C.