The big picture: BA's superjumbos enter final assembly

30 Oct 2012 by ScottCarey7

Business Traveller attended an event to watch parts from BA's forthcoming A380 travelling in convoy to the Airbus final assembly line in Toulouse.

British Airways’ first A380 superjumbo completed assembly this month, ahead of a planned delivery in July next year.

BA has yet to confirm the seating products to be installed or potential routes for the A380 but said an announcement will be made in the spring of next year. However, BA Chairman Sir Martin Broughton recently told Business Traveller: "It's not confirmed but my guess is it would be Hong Kong, although Madrid will probably be the test flight" (see online news October 10).

BA will receive its first A380 flight simulator in January, from which point increased pilot training can take place. BA's first fully trained A380 pilot, Captain James Basnett, will perform the role of “entry to service manager,” overseeing the implementation of the A380 programme at BA, including pilot and cabin crew training.

Basnett says BA has opted for the “brake to vacate” modification, allowing the superjumbo to automatically brake and exit the runway as quickly as possible after landing, significantly reducing runway occupancy, a major issue at Heathrow specifically.

The parts for BA’s second A380 arrived in Toulouse for final assembly on Saturday October 13. The wings arrived by sea from Broughton (no relation), North Wales and the three fuselage sections and horizontal tailplane (which has the same wingspan as an A320) from Hamburg, via the French town of Saint-Nazaire. BA hopes to take delivery of three A380s by the end of next year.

The logistics of bringing parts for such a large aircraft in to Toulouse for final assembly is a complex and expensive procedure. The above parts are delivered by specially designed ships in to the port of Pauillac, near Bordeaux, and are then rolled on to smaller barges to be taken down the Garonne river, to the small French town of Langon.

Here the parts are assembled in to a convoy of six vehicles and transported by road for 240km to the final assembly plant in Blagnac, Toulouse. The convoy occurs two to three times every month and must take place at night. The vehicles travel at a maximum speed of 25km/h and are escorted by police and private security, amounting to around 60 people making up the entire convoy.

Business Traveller attended the convoy of British Airways' second set of parts through the old French town of Levignac on October 12.

The convoy still attracts local plane spotters, families and the generally curious to this day, five years on from the first convoy. On this occasion, coming up to midnight on a chilly October night, there were hundreds of people lining the street as the convoy approached.

The streets are closed off and kept clear of cars for the convoy to pass, sometimes within inches of the surrounding buildings, with residents being asked to move their vehicles by 9pm on the evening of the convoy.

John Ashley, originally from Manchester and now working for Airbus on the A350 programme, told Business Traveller that he had never come out to see the convoy in the three years that he had lived nearby, but was glad to finally see it. “I’m impressed by the turnout,” said Ashley, “to watch it pass through this little town is phenomenal, certainly not something you see every day.”

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Report by Scott Carey

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