Out with the A380, in with the A321neo. Airbus announced its intention to convert its A380 Lagardère facility in Toulouse to a final assembly line for the spectacularly popular and well-selling A321neo. The transition is expected to occur by mid-2022.
We are enjoying an unprecedented high demand for our winning A320neo Family and especially its A321 Long Range (LR) and Xtra Long Range (XLR) derivatives. In order to optimize the industrial flow, we have decided to increase our global A321 production capacity and flexibility as well as to establish a next generation Final Assembly Line in Toulouse.– Michael Schoellhorn, Airbus Chief Operating Officer
Airbus currently produces the A321 at its Finkenwerder plant in Hamburg and the Mobile, Alabama Final Assembly Line. Adding the Toulouse site expands the company’s capabilities on the A321neo, an important growth step as the larger model rakes in more and more orders across the globe. The legacy A320 lines in Toulouse were built too small to handle the longer A321 fuselage length. By expanding into the space vacated by the A380 production closing down Airbus makes optimal use of its infrastructure and keeps the production flow moving.
The move comes on the heels of the company announcing plans to increase its production rate in Mobile from 5 to 7 aircraft per month as of 2021. That move is part of an overall drive to build and deliver 63 A320neo family aircraft each month. But the new Toulouse line brings a different sort of growth. While the French site will soon be capable of building more sizes of the A320neo it will not build more planes on a regular basis. At least not yet. In its statement the airframer notes, “The new facilities will provide more flexibility for A321 production, while keeping the overall single aisle industrial capacity in Toulouse flat.”
Airbus cites overall competitiveness, time to market, investment cost, and available floor space and resources as the primary factors supporting the selection of Toulouse for the work.
Smoothing the A321neo flow
Increasing the production line space dedicated to the A321neo family should further aid Airbus in smoothing the overall build pace of the single-aisle family. While Airbus hit its overall delivery targets for 2019 the production rates are not smooth and airlines continue to face delays in receiving their contracted aircraft. FlightGlobal points out that more than 16% of the Airbus deliveries came in December, more than in December 2018 and similar to the 2016 number, while slightly trailing 2017.
The revised forward section of the A321neo featuring the Airbus Cabin Flex design contributes to the build troubles as do engine suppliers. The number of “gliders” visible at the company production facilities remains impressive.
JetBlue was one of the loudest airlines talking about delivery delays. In mid-2019 the carrier slashed its expected delivery count for the type from 12 to 5, suspending retrofits of other aircraft to make up for the shortfall. More recently, JetBlue noted last week that the A321neo delays hampered growth plans and contributed to its decision for dropping a third of its flights from its Long Beach, CA focus city.
American Airlines similarly slipped five of its expected 2019 A321neo deliveries into 2020. Aer Lingus expected to have four LRs flying by the end of 2020 and came up short as well. It had only one available during the peak summer season, a hit to the carrier’s operations.
A new production line in Toulouse won’t necessarily solve the assembly challenges the A321neo faces, but it should help smooth the flow for Airbus.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time A380 space has been allocated to helping production of other types. Airbus has used its A380 fuselage assembly station in Finkenwerder to support A321 and A350 backlogs in recent years as the A380 line work slowed.