Airbus has formally opened its final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama, and conducted a media tour on Sunday 13 September before the formal opening ceremony tomorrow. The facility is impressive, and has the capability to build eight narrow-body aircraft per month operating at full capacity, although current plans are to ramp up to four per month by the end of 2018.
The facility is situated on a 116 acre site, and Airbus holds an option on an adjacent 116 acres should it wish to later expand the facility. About half of the 116 acres are occupied by buildings and tarmac, including four major buildings – the Trans-Shipment Hangar where parts are received, the final assembly line building, where initial construction begins on four stations, the finalization and testing hangar, where aircraft are completed and testing is completed, and the delivery center where they are handed over to customers.
Two aircraft are already under construction, the first of which is an A321 destined for JetBlue, with the second aircraft headed for American. First deliveries are expected in the second quarter of next year.
Interestingly, the production certificate for this facility is an EASA production certificate, using a reciprocity agreement with the FAA. This maintains one set of processes for Airbus worldwide. As a result, test aircraft will wear a French registry when they emerge from the factory, despite being completed in the US and test flown in US airspace.
There are currently 260 employees on site, of which 40 are expats involved in training US counterparts. Many of the 260 staff on site have been trained at other Airbus facilities. Full employment at the site, should it move to an eight aircraft per month rate, would be about 1,000 employees.
In the main assembly hall, station 41 mates the forward and aft fuselage sections, and the major cabin modules and monuments (galleys and lags) are installed in the interior. At final planned rates, running two shifts, an aircraft would spend about 2.5 days in this section.
The second, number 40, attached the wings to the fuselage, as well as the main landing gear. This enables the aircraft to be towed to future stations. Several major systems are also installed in the second station. At final rates, running two shifts, an aircraft would also spend about 2.5 days in this area.
The third station, number 35, provides power to the aircraft for electrical power-up, installs slats and flaps to finish the wings, installs the vertical tail fin and APUs.
The fourth station finalizes other major systems, including ground testing of hydraulics and other elements, as well as further completion of the interior. At this point, almost everything but the engines are ready.
The aircraft then moves to a testing area, which is covered by a canopy in Mobile, unlike other facilities, due to the propensity of rain in the area. In this area, fluids and fuel are loaded and instrumentation calibrated to ensure that all systems are working as promised.
The aircraft then moves to the finalization hangar, where engines are attached and final testing occurs. From there, the aircraft moves to a partner’s co-located facility for painting. MAAS built the paint hangar, and paints the aircraft under contract using its on-site hangar and facilities.
The final aircraft then moves to the flight test area, in which final testing and flight testing of the aircraft will be completed. Once that is completed, the delivery center is located just across the tarmac where the customer will undertake the final acceptance and delivery process.
All in all, the facility is modern, and impressive. A number of automated systems will be utilized for testing and assembly, and best practices and learning from existing facilities in Toulouse, Hamburg and Tianjin have been applied in Mobile.
Airbus has requested that images inside the facility be under embargo until tomorrow, and we will post photographs after that time.