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.
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.
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.
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.
I also appeared on the local news talking about the event. That was a bit of a surprise but an interesting experience overall.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) September 14, 2015
A bunch more photos from the event below.
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