A global assembly line

Airbus started as a company to serve the European market with an emphasis on short-to-medium range travel. The new European aircraft was to be manufactured across the continent. France manufactured the cockpit and flight control elements; the UK provided wings; Germany took the fuselage; the Dutch produced spoilers and flaps; and the tailplane came from Spain. 

This manufacturing process required an intricate infrastructure to move parts from factory to factory. It’s a continental assembly line that still serves the company today. An innovative approach to transport was required with parts moved via the distinctive Super Guppy aircraft, and also on canal barges. 

Today Airbus has expanded well beyond Europe in scope and ambition. 

“We need to be close to our customers. Our business model is to remain very strong in Europe and to grow as much as possible; to get close to the customers, to open new markets and to be more competitive,” said Fabrice Brégier, Airbus CEO, at the company’s 2014 Innovation Day.

Lufthansa might be the company’s biggest customer, but Qatar Airways and Emirates are not far behind. China now accounts for 20 per cent of aircraft deliveries from the company. 

Brégier also referred to the company’s major investments in China and the US. Airbus already employs around 1,200 people at its six US facilities and a new $600m final assembly plant is scheduled to open in Mobile, Alabama next year. 

A320 production is expected to start there next year, and Airbus has started training the 1,000 workers to be employed at the plant. The Airbus supply chain has diversified from being strongly European to one in which more than £12bn is spent in the US, said Brégier. 

Meanwhile, in China, the Tianjin A320 final assembly line has been extended for another 10-years to 2025, with the facility set to produce the A320neo from 2017. Airbus expects the total value of its partnerships with China’s aviation industry to reach $500m in 2015.

Japan, on the other hand, remains a little more resistant to Airbus, despite Japan Airlines announcing its first Airbus purchases last year. Brégier was, of course, keen to emphasise that Airbus continues to develop research and development cooperation in Japan.

The Airbus assembly line is definitely shifting from a continental to a global scale.

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