Airbus Opens Mobile to the World


Starting the walking tour of the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile
Starting the walking tour of the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile

Why is the new Final Assembly Line building called “Hangar 9” in Mobile, Alabama? Because that’s what it is called in Toulouse and Hamburg and Tianjin. Why is it a flow assembly line? Because that’s what it is everywhere else. Why are there 5 stations in the final assembly process? Because that’s what it is everywhere else. Quite simply, the new Airbus facility in Alabama – the first such operation by a foreign-owned aircraft manufacturer – is as good a copy of the others as Airbus could possibly get. Though there are just a few tweaks in the system with the other three do not have.

Starting the walking tour of the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile
Starting the walking tour of the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile
A JetBlue A321 Tailfin - the first to be assembled in Mobile
A JetBlue A321 Tailfin – the first to be assembled in Mobile

Airbus plans for the Mobile facility to eventually ramp up to an output pace of 4/month by late 2017. For now things are moving much more slowly as each stage of the process has to be certified and validated by EASA (not the FAA, even though it is in the USA) along the way. In fact, the entire operation is running under European rules. Test flights will carry a F-WW** aircraft registration, though the first two test pilots hired are Americans.

And, while the plant is a few weeks behind schedule, the expectation is still to have first flight in Q1 2016. The first aircraft off the line will be a JetBlue A321 in the high density “core” configuration.

The first A321 being assembled in Mobile, Alabama
The first A321 being assembled in Mobile, Alabama
Airbus A321 Under Assembly at the Mobile Final Assembly Line
Airbus A321 Under Assembly at the Mobile Final Assembly Line

Given free access to the space I also tried my hand at a Periscope tour of the site. The video is pretty shaky and you cannot see the comments in this version of it, but you can hear me explaining the assembly line and talking through some of the fun.

As for what’s different in Alabama, the wing join process has some new automation involved in drilling the holes for the 1200ish rivets on each side and installing them.

Wing join box for the A321 in Mobile
Wing join box for the A321 in Mobile

It is unclear why Airbus chose this week to throw a party in Mobile and fête the facility. There was nothing particularly special to announce, no new progress to detail or orders to celebrate. That said, I really do not mind any excuse to wander about on an aircraft factory floor, and this was a great version of that.

The first A321 on the assembly line in Mobile
The first A321 on the assembly line in Mobile
Horizontal stabilizer for the tail, waiting for attachment to the fuselage
Horizontal stabilizer for the tail, waiting for attachment to the fuselage

I also appeared on the local news talking about the event. That was a bit of a surprise but an interesting experience overall.

A bunch more photos from the event below.

AA A321 2nd in line at the Airbus Alabama FAL
AA A321 2nd in line at the Airbus Alabama FAL
Sharklet on the JetBlue A321 in Alabama
Sharklet on the JetBlue A321 in Alabama
The MAAS paint hangar at the Mobile FAL
The MAAS paint hangar at the Mobile FAL
The Gauging Canopy is used for testing the fuel tanks, among other things
The Gauging Canopy is used for testing the fuel tanks, among other things

More of the horizontal stabilizer

MSN 6512, the first A321 on the line in Mobile, Alabama
MSN 6512, the first A321 on the line in Mobile, Alabama

 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

5 Comments

  1. Seth, Did you notice that the caption under your face says, “Runaway Girl,” rather than “Runway Girl?” The former presents rather a different picture than the latter.

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