Welcome to Toulouse, France: home to aircraft manufacturer Airbus and the 'Final Assembly Line' of its Airbus A350s where these jets quite literally get their wings, plus other important features like landing gear... and business class seats too, of course.
Join Australian Business Traveller as we take a behind-the-scenes tour to see how these modern planes come together, long before they arrive at your boarding gate.
Airbus A350 Final Assembly Line photo tour
Our journey begins at 'Station 40'. When an aircraft arrives here, much of the initial construction work has already been completed, making the central aircraft body recognisable to the untrained eye:
But it's missing a few key elements, manufactured elsewhere and which the engineers in Toulouse must attach before the plane can fly.
Top of the list, a vertical tail imported from Hamburg, bolted to the fuselage with the assistance of overhead cranes...
... and perhaps even more importantly, the wings. Again, these aren't manufactured in Toulouse: instead, built in Broughton (UK), assembled in Bremen (Germany) and flown in aboard a specially-designed transporter aircraft...
... before being united with the plane they'll belong to for many years to come:
Here, the wings also meet their 'pylons' on which the engines will be mounted...
... along with those iconic Airbus A350 winglets, attached to the tips:
With the A350 now starting to look more 'whole', it's time to power it up for the very first time:
It's moments like this that the nearby safety screens prove vitally useful, advising workers when it's safe to enter the aircraft and surrounding areas:
With the power connected, many aspects of the aircraft can now be tested – including the weather radar which helps pilots to find and avoid rough storms and weather events...
... but which is normally hidden beneath a detachable nose cone. Airlines usually paint this area the same colour as the rest of the aircraft, so most passengers would never know it was there.
Station 40 is also where workers begin installing the cabin floor, the interior side panelling, the overhead lockers and reading lights – plus personal air vents if the airline has requested them – although for safety reasons we couldn't venture inside during this process.
With multiple aircraft assembled here at the same time, we ventured back to the future China Airlines plane that first caught our eye, and spotted the team readying the next batch of A350 wings...
... and also a spare 'horizontal tail plane':
That's your hint that the current aircraft is just about ready to move on to the next step – being kitted out with passenger seats, getting a paint job and gaining its engines – and that the makings of another A350 will soon arrive in its place, ready to begin the cycle again.
To explore the Airbus A350 final assembly process in more detail, watch this 3.5-minute video:
- Photos: behind the scenes at the Airbus A380 factory
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- Photo tour: inside Boeing's 787 Dreamliner factory
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Toulouse as a guest of Airbus.
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