The Airbus operation at Saint Eloi, France is specialised in the conception, manufacture, assembly and testing of engine pylons that equip all Airbus commercial aircraft families, as well as the development and production of engine nacelle components in titanium (cowls and supporting elements).
With approximately 1,000 employees located in facilities totaling an area of 75,000 sq. metres within the Toulouse region (which is also is home to Airbus headquartes). The site reflects a true manufacturing heritage, as Saint Eloi’s aviation industrial history dates back to 1921.
All engine pylons produced at Saint Eloi are shipped to Airbus’ four final assembly lines worldwide: Toulouse; Hamburg in Germany; Mobile, Alabama in the U.S.; and Tianjin, China. The operation oversees all aspects of the pylons’ industrial process – from first metal cut to delivery of the finished unit.
Nearly 27,000 pylons have been produced in Saint Eloi since the very first Airbus program – the A300 – was launched in 1969.
Pylons are a key aircraft element: in addition to supporting the jet engine and accommodating aerodynamic/thrust loads during flight, they also house the fuel, electrical and hydraulic connections that link the aircraft to its engines. Due to the requirement for high strength and resistance across operating temperatures from -50 ° to + 600 ° C, the pylons are produced primarily with titanium – a material for which the Saint Eloi site has developed a particular expertise.
The Saint Eloi operation traces its roots to 1921 and French aviation industry pioneer Emile Dewoitine, whose innovative rigid wing concept with a single metallic longeron was evolved and produced at the site – heralding a true revolution in aircraft production.
Other historic milestones included Saint Eloi’s manufacturing contributions to such French post-World War II aircraft as the propeller-driven Languedoc and Armagnac airliners, followed by the supersonic Concorde.
In becoming an important element of Airbus’ industrial network from the company’s origins, Saint Eloi has often been chosen as a pilot site to test new manufacturing solutions. This will continue in the future with the company’s transformation to support air transportation’s goal of becoming significantly more environmentally friendly.
Saint Eloi's history
Emile Dewoitine founded an aeronautics construction company CAED in Toulouse and, on 20th May, 1921, leased a 4,000 m2 former salted meats warehouse in the “Pasteur” district next to the current Saint Eloi plant. In July 1934, he fitted out a building of more than 6,000 m2. More than 400, D1 single-seater fighters were produced in this plant, called Saint Eloi.
At the end of 1938, production rates continued to increase. As war threatened, France nationalized part of its aviation and grouped Toulouse plants under the banner of the SNCAM (Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Midi). Emile Dewoitine, in charge of this company, decided to build the first assembly hall in a place called Saint Martin du Touch, and to extend the Saint Eloi site to 28,000 m2. Toulouse had become the capital of aeronautics: nearly 10,000 people were producing approximately 100 aircraft a month there.
Concorde in Flight
The first Airbus aircraft, the A300B, was launched by Aerospatiale, in France, and by Deutsche Aerospace, in Germany. Engine pylon parts for this aircraft were machined in St Eloi and then assembled in Blagnac.
At the start of the 80s, highly complex technical parts were machined by boilermaking and sheet metal experts. It was considered true “handcraftsmanship”. Saint Eloi was also preparing its technological transformation and integrated new, high-performance machines.
At the end of the 80s, the Airbus catalogue had four aircraft programmes to offer: the A300B (since 1969), A320 (since 1984) and A340/A330 (since 1987).
As soon as A320 production was launched, engine pylon machining and assembly were performed at St Eloi.
Production rates increased and the St Eloi site was extended. At the end of the 90s, more than 450 pylons were produced every year. Saint Eloi was extended and the plant became equipped with highly innovative machine tools such as numeric turns by a Japanese supplier, Super Plastic Forming (SPF) and a pylon drilling machine by Jobs, the “must have” of that time.
A few years later, Saint Eloi doubled its production and was producing nearly 800 engine pylons a year. It had to extend further and adapt to the increased production rates of the Airbus A320, A330, A340 programmes and of the ATR turboprops.
Design Office teams were working on the A400M and A380 engine mounts. The site undertook an approach governed by environmental and workstation safety issues and the decision was made to outsource the surface treatment activities of produced parts.
In 2010, a new assembly hall, dedicated to A350 engine pylon assembly, was created. It was home to the new “flowline”, a system for conveying parts from one workstation to another by means of overhead travelling cranes. Investment topped 15.5 million euros.
The Saint Eloi plant has not always produced for aeronautics. The 1940 armistice abruptly put the brakes on the production of combat aircraft and forced the plant into a temporary reconversion. For 5 years, the industrial means and sheet metal and forming skills were used for the small-scale manufacture of: deep-drawn, light-alloy framed bicycles, self-carbonising ovens capable of producing charcoal, gas trailers for cars and trucks, rear parts of coach bodies, metal containers for trucks and railways and metal office and kitchen furniture.
In 1949, Saint Eloi accommodated a school capable of training 40 pupils a year and preparing them for vocational certificates as boilermakers, machinists, metal workers and fitters. Nowadays, the Lycée Airbus is one of the rare corporate schools in France to offer 5 vocational school-leaving certificates, 2 further-education technical diplomas and one paint specialisation to nearly 300 students. Staff expertise is also renowned in the MOF (Best Craftsman in France) competition. Since 1980, more than 44 Airbus collaborators have won this award in categories such as dinandery (precision work in copper and brass) or industrial mock-ups.