Airbus has developed its own transportation system to airlift the large, pre-assembled sections of its jetliners from their production locations to final assembly lines in Toulouse and Hamburg. This service is performed by five A300-600ST Super Transporters, with the next-generation fleet currently in development.
The modified A300-600s, nicknamed the “Beluga,” have a bulbous main-deck cargo cabin which enables the loading of complete fuselage sections and wings. Operated by Airbus Transport International, the Super Transporter is able to carry a 47-metric-tonne (103,616 lb.) payload over a range of 900 nautical miles (1,667 km.).
To support planned production rate increases, Airbus is expanding its existing A300-600ST fleet with the development and production of five new Beluga aircraft – called BelugaXL – which are derived from the company’s versatile A330 widebody product line, with a mid-2019 service entry.
The A380’s size means its fuselage and wing sections are shipped via a surface transportation network that includes specially-commissioned roll-on roll-off ships to carry these sections from production sites in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom to the French city of Bordeaux. From there, sections are transported by barge along the Garonne River to the Toulouse final assembly line.
As for other Airbus aircraft programmes, production of the A380 takes place in different sites across Europe. Each produces completely equipped sections, which are transported to the final assembly line. Most A380 sections are transported to Toulouse by sea, river and road. A number of smaller components, such as the vertical fin produced in Stade or the nose section produced in Meaulte, France, are carried in Airbus’ Beluga fleet.
All large A380 sections are transported by truck from inland production sites to the nearest river or sea port. Wings, for example, travel by barge along the River Dee from Broughton in North Wales to the Dee estuary, where they are loaded onto a large capacity roll-on/roll-off vessel. The craft is used to move aircraft sections by sea to the French port of Pauillac, near Bordeaux.
Here, the components are transferred to specially-designed barges, which carry them on the penultimate part of their 95 km. voyage up Garonne River from Pauillac to Langon. Four river journeys are required to transport fuselage sections and the horizontal tail plane of one airliner. In Langon, aircraft sections are transferred to outsized-load trucks to complete their journey to Toulouse by road.
For the A320 Family of jetliners, Airbus expanded its final assembly facilities beyond the original European locations in Toulouse and Hamburg, to sites in two other key world markets – China (at Tianjin) and the United States (in Mobile, Alabama).
These latest assembly locations are supplied via sea-going shipments. For example, the Mobile Express ship carries subassemblies for the single-aisle Family jetliners during a transatlantic voyage from the industrial site in Saint-Nazaire, France to the Manufacturing Facility in Alabama on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The ship, which is a part of Airbus’ fleet of aquatic vessels, transports major A320 Family components that include fuselage sections, wings and pylons, as well as vertical and horizontal stabilisers.