Airbus has begun parts production for the first A321XLR narrowbody across its sites and wider supply chain, including a new so-called pilot line in Hamburg, Germany, where the company plans to “decouple” major component assembly for the rear fuselage and new rear center fuel tank from the rest of the A320 line. The company said that the pilot line will allow a gradual production acceleration of the A321XLR airliner’s new rear fuselage starting next year “to attain maturity without impacting Hamburg’s existing single-aisle production operations.” Airbus expects major component assembly of the first forward fuselage, center and rear fuselage sections, and wings to start this year as it prepares for service entry in 2023.
“The principle of this pilot line in Hamburg means that we can have a stable factory," explained A321XLR program head Gary O’Donnell. “This will allow us to start ramping up production of the A321XLR’s aft fuselage major component assembly using longer cycle times, to begin with, and with an increased level of engineering and support—in particular, to ensure the smooth integration of the new rear center tank and its new fuel systems. Importantly, this new approach will also avoid us putting at risk the rest of single-aisle production. And then, once we’re happy that everything is mature and up-to-speed, we can transfer it with confidence into the main production system.”
While all major sections of the A321XLR contain what Airbus calls significant design changes versus the current A321neo/A321LR baseline aircraft, the center, and aft fuselage present the biggest differences due largely to the new rear-center fuel tank and associated fuel management systems.
Airbus started the subassembly of the center wing box in mid-November 2020 at its plant in Nantes in France. Once built, the component will go to Hamburg, where Airbus will integrate it with the aft fuselage section.
Meanwhile, Premium Aerotec Group in Augsburg Germany has neared completion of the final parts for the rear center tank and has begun preparing the tooling and shop floor for the rear center tank’s assembly. At Premium Aerotec Group’s other sites in Nordenham and Varel, various large center and aft fuselage components already have entered production.
Meanwhile, Stelia Aerospace has begun parts production for the aircraft’s nose and forward fuselage section. Upon completion, they will go to Airbus’s facilities in St. Nazaire, France, for assembly.
Separately, Airbus’s UK wing plant in Broughton—where the team’s particular focus centers on the A321XLR’s new flap configuration—has begun associated tooling trials for the new ‘movables’ in conjunction with partners Spirit AeroSystems in Malaysia (inboard flap) and FACC in Austria (outboard flap). The wing’s more conventional fixed components, such as spars and stringers, continue to take shape in Broughton and in the associated supply chain. Likewise, production has begun for the landing gear components (Safran, Collins, and Triumph); fuel & inerting systems (Collins and Parker Aerospace); and the engine pylons (at Airbus’ dedicated production plant in St. Eloi near Toulouse). Finally, cabin and cargo systems have reached the testing phase to validate the A321XLR’s comfort elements.