Saturday, April 01, 2006

Airbus logistics

The troubled Airbus A380 project has made business-section headlines for a number of manufacturing delays, but it's amazing that the thing can be built at all.

The logistical challenge of building the Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger jet, is every bit as awesome as the plane. Start with a piece of equipment requiring millions of parts and complex technology. Add to that the aircraft's outsized dimensions -- about 50% more floor space than a Boeing (BA) 747 and a wingspan more than 10 meters longer.

Then, to make things really complicated, manufacture the wings in England, the tail in Germany, the fuselage in France and Spain -- and move these gargantuan pieces to yet another location to put them together.

Although the A380 is assembled at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, none of the components is made there. Instead, they're sent to Toulouse from factories in four countries.

...the A380's parts are too big for conventional transport means.

So Airbus devised a complex scheme that involves shipping pieces on a custom-built oceangoing ferry, a fleet of river barges, and oversized flatbed trucks. To accommodate the trucks, 240 kilometers of highway connecting Toulouse to the nearest port had to be widened and straightened.