In March, ASEANflyer.com headed for Toulouse to find out how the aircraft was built. We will take you through process of building and testing the entire plane, including checking and taking delivery by a customer. Moreover, we will bring you on-board the delivery flight which its atmosphere is markedly different from a normal flight. Firstly, we will introduce our main actor, Thai Airasia’s third Airbus A320neo.
Get to know “Airbus A320neo”
Airbus A320neo is the new family in A320 series. The aircraft incorporates latest technologies and innovations leading to reduced fuel consumption, lower noise levels and fewer emissions. It offers great solutions to meet the needs of any airline and their customers.
Thai Airasia is the first Thailand-based airline that added the A320neo to its fleet. The first A320neo has served the airline’s customer since October, 2016 and followed by the second one in late December. The third is the aircraft which this article will show you its behind-the-scene building process and checking procedure of engineers and pilots to make sure that every detail of the aircraft ready for the fleet.
Toulouse, the hometown of aircrafts
Toulouse is in the south of France, 680 kilometers from Paris. This city is the hub of the European aerospace Industry. It hosts so many aerospace engineering companies and research centers including the headquarters of Airbus, a manufacturing giant of Europe. In the past, the world’s most famous (supersonic) plane, Concorde, was built here.
Toulouse is home to final assembly lines for all Airbus commercial aircraft families: A320, A330, A350XWB, and A380. In addition to Toulouse plant, Airbus has other final assembly lines for A320 family in three cities: Germany’s Hamburg, China’s Tianjin and Alabama’s Mobile in US.
Wings, fuselage and other parts met at Toulouse
Although Toulouse is where the jet is assembled, the beginning phase of the A320neo scatters around Europe. Pre-assembled sections of the aircraft are produced at many cities. The front fuselage section is assembled at Saint-Nazaire located in the northwest of France. The rear fuselage section is manufactured at Hamburg plant where it is equipped with all relevant systems such as electrical wiring, electronics system and air-conditioning system. Airbus’ plant in Broughton, UK is responsible for the wings. The vertical tail plane of the aircraft is produced at Stade. The horizontal tail plane is assembled at Puerto Real, located in the south of Spain.
The parts of Airbus A320 are built at plants around Europe. Usually, they’re flown to Toulouse in special cargo plane called ‘Beluga’ which is modified version of Airbus A300. A wide fuselage section giving the plane its characteristic hump causes it very strange appearance resembling beluga whale.
A time to assemble the Thai Airasia’s A320neo
After all major aircraft sections had transported to Toulouse, the assembling process of the plane began at this final assembly line.
At the first station, the front fuselage segment joined the rear segment. Then the joined fuselage was moved to the next station where the two wings were mated and engine pylons and landing gear fitted. Cockpit and relevant equipment were simultaneously installed.
The A320neo was then transferred on their own wheel to next area. This was the first touch of the new aircraft to the ground. At this station, vertical and horizontal tails were installed along with other certain parts: electric system, hydraulic system, water system and ventilation system. The most eye-catching thing in final assembly line was the vertical tail. It had been painted the pattern of the airline at the Germany plant while the other parts of the airplane were not painted and covered with the green or cream surface.
The aircraft then moved to the next building in order to install the latest-generation engines which are the heart of the aircraft. Cabin equipment such as passenger seats, luggage compartments and lavatory was concurrently fitted. The aircraft electric system was first tested. Radar and fuel system together with other 85 systems were installed and tested. Painting was done afterward. And then, there were several ground tests including preparation for its first test flight.
Engineers and Pilots Ready for test flight
The checking procedure began with the meeting with airbus about the new aircraft throughout the production process. Next, the acceptance flight was made by Airbus’ pilot together with the airline’s pilot. The engineering team was also on-board to check all aircraft systems according to a checklist which is the same standard for every airline.
After the test flight, there were several ground checks. Engines were run at the high rate. External surfaces were thoroughly checked. All major aircraft systems were tested. Airbus must rework or find solutions for all defects before the airline made a technical acceptance.
When all system had been checked and the technical acceptance process had been successfully completed, the French authority could issue the Certificate of Airworthiness. After that, Airbus made a transfer of the aircraft’s title deeds to the customer airline. The aircraft must later be changed its nationality to Thailand by registering with Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.
A commercial airplane normally costs more than $ 100 million. According to Airbus aircraft 2017 average list prices, an A320neo comes with the price tag of $ 108.4 million. However, the actual price that each airline has to pay somewhat varies. It depends on many factors such as order size, additional options, duration airline wait for delivery and business negotiation.
Many people may doubt that how airlines pay that massive amount of money. Investing a hundred million dollars to buy it at the full price can impose a heavy burden for airlines (paying cash was done mostly by billionaires who use their airplanes privately). To get the new aircraft, airlines have some certain ways, for example, leasing aircraft with the leasing company, or obtaining loans from commercial banks and use the aircraft as security for the loan. Each airline may use different method for each new aircraft for the spread of risk and source of funds.
Fly to new home, Thailand
Ferry flight from Airbus factory to Thailand was operated by 4 pilots that divided into 2 teams. Apart from a captain who was the pilot for the test flight, another captain and 2 co-pilots came from Thailand to pilot the new airplane to Thai Airasia base at Don Mueang Airport. The total flight duration from Toulouse to Bangkok is 13 hours but the range of A320neo is around 7 hours distance (without passengers and cargo). Therefore, we first flew for 7 hours from Toulouse to Al Maktoum International Airport near Dubai and refueled there. The second leg then took another 5 hours to fly to Bangkok.
Once the delivery flight landed in Bangkok, airline’s engineering team had just around 12 hours to execute a Pre-Service Check to ensure that the aircraft ready to serve airline’s customer. The check included maintenance, attaching signs and labels, installing external protective films and loading all requisite software. So the aircraft was ready to depart on its first commercial flight on the very next day.
Welcome the new family member “Airbus A320neo”
According to Thai tradition, Thai Airasia always holds a blessing ceremony to welcome its new aircrafts. For the new A320neo registered as HS-BBZ, Thai AirAsia invited Buddhist monks to anoint the aircraft for its good fortune. The airline’s executives and staff attending the ceremony gave a warm welcome to their new member all together.
We also produced a video of this delivery flight and more details of AirAsia A320neo.
Interesting Facts of Airbus A320neo
– A total assembly process took just 36 days, from the time all parts of A320neo aircraft reached the final assembly line in Toulouse to the day the airline customer took delivery.
– For Airbus A320neo family, the word “neo” refers to new engine option. That means each A320neo aircraft installs the latest-generation engine which reduces fuel consumption, and emits CO2 15% less than the previous generation.
– The engine of A320neo is so huge. It features 2 meters diameter fan which make it bigger than cabins of many private jets.
– Thai Airasia’s A320neo installed new cabin configuration, called “Space-Flex”. The newly-designed rear lavatory and galley area offers the possibility to free up space for additional seats. Therefore, Thai Airasia’s A320neo have 186 seats, 6 seats more than the old system, without reducing seat pitch.
– With its new engine, the noise from the A320neo is 19 decibel lower than the ICAO standard, which means it cut the noise nearly half of an old-generation aircraft.