Airbus’ former flagship, the massive A380, has reached a milestone in its production cycle, with the completion of the final set of wings.
Built at Airbus’ Broughton facility in Flintshire, Wales; the massive wings provide the world’s largest passenger jet with 845.8 square metres of area once installed onto the fuselage.
The A380 is manufactured across various facilities throughout Europe with the wings being part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to the superjumbo project. With a wingspan just shy of 80 metres, the giant surfaces are responsible for lifting the 560,185 kg airliner into the sky, as well as supporting the airliner’s four engines and housing part of the supersized landing gear.
With Airbus utilising a decentralised construction programme, parts and components of the A380 are shipped from various production facilities to Airbus’ final assembly plant in Toulouse, France.
Various nations are involved in this process, with several key European countries providing the bulk of the work.
Germany plants are responsible for construction and assembly of the forward and rear fuselage as well as pressure bulkheads and interior design while Spain produces the tail cone, stabilisers and landing gear.
The UK oversees wing production for the A380 and other Airbus models, while the building of the central fuselage air inlets and ailerons happens in France, as does the final production of the aircraft.
While some components are modest enough in size to be transported on heavy-lift aircraft – such as the Airbus Beluga – the size of the A380’s wings mean they are transported via land and sea.
From the UK plant in Wales, the wings are carefully transported to an awaiting barge for a journey down the River Dee that terminates at the Dee estuary. Here they are loaded aboard a custom-designed roll on roll off ship before being moved to Bordeaux in France.
Upon arrival in France, they are relocated to an awaiting barge, transiting the waters of Garonne River for the final leg of their journey to Toulouse.
This intricate production and transportation process has been underway since well before the first A380 prototype was revealed in January 2005, and the once novel sight of giant aircraft components moving slowly by river barge has become familiar for those living along the route.
When the A380 prototype was revealed, there were great expectations that the airliner – certified to carry up to 853 passengers – would revolutionise global air travel. Its spaciousness and capacity promised to aid in relieving pressure on slot restricted airports such as London Heathrow or airports with operating curfews such as Sydney, while airlines around the world utilised some of the internal space to showcase their finest luxury products including suites, bars and lounges.
Singapore Airlines launched the inaugural A380 services in October 2007, operating SQ380 from Singapore to Sydney.
Initial projections showed promise with a variety of airlines including Emirates, Air France, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic being among the first carriers to order the aircraft.
However despite an almost universal love for the aircraft among the travelling public – thanks to the A380’s spacious interior, improved air quality and smooth flying characteristics – airline affections for the superjumbo were less prominent.
Of all the airlines that took an interest in the A380 throughout its development, Emirates was the only carrier to fully embrace the Superjumbo. With its first model arriving in mid-2008, the airline built a significant network around the aircraft, introducing A380s to destinations near and far.
In fact, of 251 firm orders for the airliner, 123 were destined for Emirates; representing almost 50% of all A380s produced.
With so much reliance on one carrier, the future of the A380 was somewhat tied to the ongoing desire of Emirates to continue adding superjumbos to its fleet. When the UAE based carrier reduced its existing order by 39 aircraft, Airbus announced that production of the superjumbo would end by 2021.
While the final wings have now been completed, A380 production will continue for the rest of the year. It seems fitting that the final aircraft is destined for Emirates – its most loyal and successful customer.