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A320 Final Assembly Line Tour
No visit to Flight Works Alabama is truly complete without the experience that brings it all together. In our exhibition and educational center, we show you and tell you how “We Make It Fly,” but on a tour of the Airbus A320 Final Assembly Line (FAL), you can see it all come together right before your eyes.
Mobile is just one of five global cities where Airbus assembles the commercial aircraft it manufactures and sells to its aviation customers. With the addition of A220 production in Mobile, the Port City’s importance in aviation has increased.
You’ll begin the tour by watching a short video that provides some of the context for what you will experience during your visit. After boarding the bus and being transported to the production site, you’ll see many of the most important areas in which the aircraft takes shape.
After a 13-day journey by ship from St. Nazaire, France to the Port of Mobile, major component assemblies (MCAs) for the A320 Family of aircraft are loaded onto barges, which then float down the river to a dock on Brookley Field. From there, they take a one-mile journey to the FAL. There, they are received in the Transshipment Hangar, where they are cataloged and prepared for movement into the production process.
Final Assembly Line Hangar
The largest building on the Airbus campus is the Final Assembly Line hangar (FAL), comprising 836 feet by 250 feet, with a 91-foot ceiling. Here, the assembly of aircraft is based on the flow line principle, in which five workstations are arranged, one after the other. Each aircraft moves (flows) through each station in turn, on its way to completion.
There are five workstations within the Final Assembly Line Hangar.
Station 42/41: Fuselage Assembly
The fuselage sections arrive fully equipped, but all tubes, ducts, and cables for the electrical, hydraulic, and air conditioning systems must be connected. In station 42, the lavatories and galleys are placed into the still open fuselage, and the cockpit begins coming together. The two pieces of fuselage are then moved by crane into station 41.
The final assembly of every Airbus A320 Family aircraft manufactured in Mobile begins at Station 41, with the joining together of the fuselage sections. More than 3,000 rivets are required for that task alone.
Before the aircraft advances to the next station on the flow line, the electrical and cargo loading systems are installed and quality checks are made. Then, the entire fuselage (called a “cigar”) is moved forward to the next station by a powerful overhead crane.
Station 40: Wing & Landing Gear Station
At the third station, the wings are joined to the fuselage—one of the most challenging and time-consuming operations in the entire production process.
By means of high-precision instruments, the wings are positioned on the fuselage and rivet holes are drilled. Each 4.5-ton wing is then separated from the fuselage, at which point they are cleaned, and a sealing compound is applied.
When the wings are rejoined, it will be with an accuracy of one tenth of a millimeter—less than the width of the period at the end of this sentence. The job will require another 1,200 rivets.
Station 40 is also where the aircraft is supplied with electrical power for the first time. A plug is connected to the aircraft, and with “Electrical Power On,” system testing can now begin.
The main and nose landing gear are also assembled here. Then, supported on its wheels for the first time, the aircraft moves forward to Station 35.
Station 35: Horizontal and Vertical Stabilizers
At the fourth station on the line, the horizontal and vertical tail planes (HTP, VTP) and tail cone are fitted to the aircraft, and the nose, or radome, is installed. The radome is transparent to radio frequency radiation, allowing the weather radar, navigation, and other avionics systems to function.
The auxiliary power unit (APU), which will be needed to start the aircraft and to supply it with power for electrical, hydraulic, and warm air when the engines are not running, is installed at Station 35. Cabin installation begins at this station and additional tests are run of the electrical, air conditioning, and flight control systems. The first “power on” of the hydraulic system also occurs.
The last station on the flow line is called Dock Station. A range of function and system tests take place here, as well as the installation of carpeting and certain other cabin interiors.
Engines and engine cowlings are installed here, and all of the various connections between the engines and the onboard systems are made: electrical power, compressed air, flight control, fire extinguishing, and de-icing systems, among others.
After production is complete at Dock Station, the aircraft will leave the Final Assembly Line hangar, ready for final testing and paint.
Other Areas (not included on the tour)While the following stages will not be featured on the tour, they are still crucial to the final assembly process in Mobile.
The next stop for the aircraft is the Paint Shop, operated by MAAS. Prior to painting, the aircraft is sanded if needed, and areas masked off where no paint is to be applied. There can be up to three coats of paint on the aircraft: the primer coat, the barrier coat and the top coat (in the airline’s colors, or livery).
Vertical tail planes and sharklets are painted in the customer’s livery before they reach Mobile. All exterior aircraft paint must be flexible and able to resist temperatures that can range from -76 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
The thousands of smaller parts, components, and systems that go into producing the Airbus A320 Family of aircraft are catalogued and housed in the Logistics Center, operated by Daher, a well-known logistics service provider.
Here the parts are sorted into groups defined by where and when they will be used in production. When operations are ready to receive a particular item, it is delivered to the relevant workstation.
Although it is an integral part of Airbus, the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility operates like a stand-alone company. That means it includes all of the support functions required to run a company, including Human Relations, Finance, Procurement, Information Technology, and more.
Production leadership and staff are located in the Final Assembly Line Hangar, so they can be close to the product as it moves through the process.
Under the gauging canopy, the aircraft’s fuel tanks are tested for leaks and fuel gauges are checked to ensure accuracy. From 6,340 to 7,925 gallons of fuel are used to fill the tanks to capacity.
The global positioning system is also tested, outside the hangar.
Final Phase/Flight Line Hangar
In the Final Phase, the remaining cabin furnishings are installed, and aseries of quality inspections are made of the cabin and cockpit by the customer.
At the Flight Line, the aircraft is prepared for handover to the customer. This includes the flight-testing phase, with its pre-flight checks, engine run-ups, taxiing, and braking tests.
Before the aircraft is allowed to take off, further tests are required. If the results are satisfactory, the aircraft gets the “go ahead” for first flight, in which it will be put through a series of maneuvers as various systems and sensors are checked in flight.
After a successful flight testing, the aircraft is ready for delivery to the customer. The customer’s pilots join the Airbus delivery team for an acceptance flight and review.
Once completed, the transfer of title takes place and the customer becomes the owner of a new aircraft made proudly in the United States.