Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Superjumbo's Story

It was winter in 2009 when I had the chance to be on the upper deck of Superjumbo flight for the first time en route from Singapore to Paris. First impression: Very spacious! Moreover, the colourful Christmas decorations all over made it more like a house instead of just an aeroplane. Firstly launched into commercial flights in 2007, the Airbus A380 carrier has been claimed to have better performance and use less fuel, therefore supporting the 'eco-efficient' campaign.

Having been curious about the history of its birth, we visited Airbus hometown in Toulouse to discover the Airbus world. Reservation had to be made prior to the visit, either by phone or online. Initially, we planned to make a booking for combined tour of Jean-Luc Lagardère A380 and Concorde No. 1 but it was already full, so we took the single tour to Jean-Luc Lagardère A380 site for € 14 each as the second option. At the admission desk, we were required to leave our cameras behind as taking films and photographs are strictly prohibited within the site.

The 1,5-hour tour begins with the visit to telemetry room,  guided by a very chic lady, showing the programming of A380, and how it is like reading all the information shown in the cockpit. During the flight, about 280,000 parameters and flight data are recorded, which is transmitted to the telemetry room. Prior to its official launch, the aircraft had been tested in extreme weather conditions from the freezing environment to hot desserts. If I am not mistaken, it took more than thousands of tests before the first aircrafts are ready to be sent to the market. And where did these testers go? As expected, they were bought by Middle Eastern billionnaires, and even though Singapore Airlines became the first company to whom Airbus sold A380, it is Emirates that has become the number one customer in terms of purchasing volume, ensuring Airbus to manufacture more airliners.

We were informed about the corporate information as well as Airbus site of Toulouse. The Airbus A380 is a result of worksharing between four countries, i.e. France (cockpit, fuselage centre section, engine pylons, mobile parts of the wings), Germany (fuselage forward, aft sections, fin, flaps and the doors), Spain (tail cone, horizontal stabilizer, belly fairing, rudder and elevators), and UK (wings). It was amazing to see how the spare parts were transported from its manufacturing companies spreading all over Europe to the final destination using aeroplane, trucks, and ships. Airbus company even created a cargo aircraft Super Transporter A300-600 ST named Beluga specially to transport the spare parts of Airbus A380! The main A380 sections arrived from the manufacturing sites by:
- air transportation (for the cone and tail only),
- sea transportation to Pauillac,
- river transportation to Langon,
- road transportation to the JLL site by an oversized convoy itinerary.

Later, we were taken to the viewing platform to see the aircraft and its overall industrial process, i.e. general assembly, general tests. At the end of the process, there are three stages, namely:
- engine tests, where the aircraft is towed to the other part of the site for engine testing at the run-up facility and then to perform its first test flight
- cabin furnishing and painting, which is done in Hamburg, Germany
- delivery, the A380s are delivered from Hamburg or from Toulouse according to the customer.

At that time, three aircrafts were in the assembling process, one of which will be delivered to Korean Air as the logo had been completely painted. Approaching the end of the tour, we were guided to visit the A380 mock up. During this visit, a visitor posed a question concerning the standard design for A380 of different airlines. According to our guide, the design is made based on the requirement of each customer, therefore passengers will find quite a variety of cabin designs when using different airlines. She even added that Airbus once received fancy requests from their extremely rich individual customers, requiring entertainment facilities such as mini golf course on their private jet, and even a swimming pool!

The entrance of Airbus visit

Jean-Luc Lagardère site from afar
Interested in visiting Airbus sites? Here's the contact details.

Village Aèroconstellation - rue Franz Joseph Strauss
31700 Blagnac - France
Tèl. 00 33 (0)5 34 39 42 00

Technical information in this post is derived from the Jean-Luc Lagardère site visit brochure. 

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