The research for this study focused on the production and procurement of the Airbus A380. That Airbus’ research that led to the justification and showed an open market for the design features of the A380. How the A380 fits into the product strategy of today and global airline market of Airbus tomorrow. Some of the design process innovations of the A380, how the use of new technology has influenced the manufacturing operations and organization of the A380.
Before starting the A380 project both Airbus and Boeing had focused on cornering the very-large-airliner market. Airbus and Boeing had worked together on a study investigating a 600+ seat aircraft called the Very Large Commercial Transport, but this cooperation did not last long. Although both manufacturers issued various statements, the unspoken consensus was that there was probably room for only one maker to be profitable in the 600 to 800–seat market segment. Both knew the risk of splitting a niche market. (Global Oneness, 2008)
The simultaneous introduction of the Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed Tri-Star had demonstrated this, either aircraft could fill the gap between the Douglas DC-8 and the Boeing 747, but the market could only sustain one. Ultimately, both companies left the civil airliner market, Boeing and Airbus then entered the new 600-seat aircraft market.
From the start, Boeing had the upper hand with the 747 designed in the 1960s; it was popular and larger than Airbus’ largest jet, the A340. At the time, most airlines had to have the 747 for its carrying capability and lower cost per passenger mile. Development of the new Airbus began in June 1994, renamed in 2001, as the A380 with the announcement of Singapore Airlines as the launch customer. (Greene 2007)
The Airbus A380 is a double-decker, four-engine airliner manufactured by Airbus. It first flew on April 27, 2005, from Toulouse, France. Commercial flights began in 2006 after 15 months of testing. The aircraft was known during much of its development as the Airbus A3XX. (Global Oneness 2008)
The A380 is now the largest passenger airliner, topping the Boeing 747, which was the largest for 35 years. However, the Antonov An-225 retains the record of being the world’s largest commercial aircraft. The media has termed the A380 a “super jumbo”. The first A380 prototype was unveiled during a ceremony in Toulouse, on January 18, 2005, its manufacturer’s serial number is 001, and is registered as F-WWOW. (Global Oneness 2008)
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The new Airbus will initially be sold in two versions: the A380-800, carrying 555 passengers in a three-class configuration or up to 800 passengers in a single-class economy configuration. Expected range for the -800 model is 8,000 nautical miles (14,800 km). The second model, the A380-800F dedicated freighter, will carry 150 tons of cargo 5,600 nautical miles (10,400 km). (Airbus 2007)
The rationale and market need for the design of the A380
In the past 3 decades since the Boeing 747 was introduced, air traffic has grown tenfold. The 747 was an increase in passenger and cargo capacity of 150 percent over the aircraft it replaced, the 707 series that had only been in service 10 years. It is now 36 years after the 747’s introduction and the A380 is offering a modest 35 percent increase in capacity over the 747. (Sweetman 2005) The Airbus A380 offers a greater degree of comfort, lower operating cost (fuel burn to passenger mile), more economical and it maximizes gate slot positions for those airlines that are limited in the gate quantity.
Outside of the United States, many countries have large population concentrations, both in terms of need and ability to travel, a number of these are in Asia. Major hubs in Europe and the United States are without doubt going to be coupled to the major Asian airports with connecting services. (Global Oneness 2008) The concentration of Europe geographically will offer passengers the opportunity to benefit by connecting through hubs to secure lower fare levels. Smaller populations in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland will never have non-stops service to more than a few major hubs abroad. (Clark 2007)
The Airbus A380 will thrive in the international services over domestic due in part to time zones and time changes encountered during flight. Travel from Asia to Europe is largely concentrated in the late evening, in order to arrive in early morning. A flight from Tokyo at 3 AM is not popular, because of this; airlines have to stack departures in a much contracted time window on the same route. Using two A380s instead of three 747s is going to be more efficient and profitable in these cases.
The Asia-Pacific region will represent over 60% of the overall demand for the A380 by 2023, compared with just 10% in North America. By the year 2023, three-fourths of A380 size aircraft will operate through only 20 airports and these airports will ‘utilize’ almost 700 large aircraft. By 2023, a market for 400 large freighters is anticipated. (Joyce 2008) If we assume the A380 secures just 50% of that market then by simple arithmetic, in 2023 there will be around 1,000 plus A380 capacity aircraft in service–a reach from the projected 350. Several forward-looking, hub-centric airlines have already ordered 159 A380s. These airlines will require another 400 aircraft, with cumulative orders for some 550 aircraft in the next 20 years. (Joyce 2008) Further analysis shows another 40 airlines with a requirement for a further 450 to 550 A380s in the same period.
It is interesting that as late as 1996, Boeing’s forecast for A380 size aircraft was close to Airbus’s, but has steadily declined, in the absence of a stretched or fully rejuvenated 747-400. With the launch of the 747-8 this number is being revised–some sources show as much as 15% upwards. (Mutzabaugh 2007) The aviation industry has a habit of exaggerating the forthcoming death of a program. In recent years we have seen the stampede towards the 50 seat RJ and the judgment that 50-70 seat turboprops were about to cease production. Economic reality in 2005 forced many carriers to reevaluate this decision and the consequence was a several hundred percent increase in orders for turboprops while orders for the 50 seat RJ began to resemble the Cheshire cat’s smile. Are we perhaps also living in Alice in Wonderland with the stampede to purchase huge numbers of 250-300 seat long range airliners?
If the A380 lives up to its promises in terms of improving airline profits and attracting passengers due to its space, comfort and services–the so-called “WOW” factor–then many other airlines may be obliged to respond or suffer the economic consequences. The major Japanese carriers, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, South African Airways, Air India International, plus a number of others, will all likely become operators. It is highly probable, as the world’s economy continues to grow and China and India in particular expand their economies rapidly, that the consequent passenger growth and the sheer volume demands between hubs will have the major airlines singing a new song: “Big is Beautiful”. (O’Keeffe 2009)
How the aircraft fits into the product strategy of its manufacturing company.
Airbus wants to complete its product range with a series of 500 plus seat aircraft to challenge the Boeing dominance with the 747 series aircraft. Airbus Industry forecasts a market for 1,440 airliners of more than 400 seats through the year 2016. Most would consider those forecasts optimistic. Perhaps it is worth mentioning, as some people question the handling of 550 passengers off one aircraft, there are currently 550 seat 747-400s operating today, in a single class configuration. (Airbus 2007)
Airbus’ forecast and strategy is based on their past hub and spoke system model. To be the market leader in the commercial aircraft industry and to expand a completely new product development model for this immense program, Airbus needed to leverage the resources and innovation resident in its heritage companies and to achieve radical reductions in cost and time-to-market. (Airbus 2007)
The Airbus A380 benefits from the use of digital mock ups, to ensure fitment and usage of components. The benefits of DMU’ are the reliability, reactivity and important savings it has brought, especially with non-recurring costs. (Airbus 2007) Through the integrated processes, they are now able to manufacture parts in a low range of tolerance from the geometric definition, which means they will fit together the first time. This has worked particularly well on the A380, where the larger parts are fitting together first time without the need for any adjustment
Design process of the A380
PTC, the engineering software company, has been at the heart of the development of the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airplane, unveiled on 18 January in France, Airbus is now entering full-scale production for the A380. (PTC 2009)
The biggest obstruction to these improvements was the difficulty in enabling the thousands of Airbus engineers spread across Europe, separated by different processes, systems, companies, and languages, to concurrently engineer and manufacture a highly integrated system such as the A380. Airbus’ answer to these challenges was an initiative called Airbus Concurrent Engineering (ACE), a systematic approach to aircraft development using best tools, methods, and organization in a Virtual Configured 3D environment. (PTC 2009) It was first implemented at Airbus on the A340 program and is now being used intensively for the A380 and A400M programs.
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A key element of ACE is Windchill Technology that synchronizes the Complex Configuration Management module with the system digital mock up allowing designs to be reviewed, simulated, and shared, entirely virtually, right across Europe in a detailed and realistic 3D space. Engineers and manufacturers can now work simultaneously across the functions, disciplines, and individual companies to build the digital mock up using a variety of configured views. Then they are able to define manufacturing planning and finally release design solutions for manufacturing and assembly. (PTC 2009)
Those views are used at every step of the aircraft’s development, including pre-sales maintenance and support. DMUs help to better integrate customer requirements into the design process, improve the quality of assembly definition, and allow for early validation of the manufacturing processes themselves.
Gorden Falk, vice-president, cabin interior, Airbus says; “Cabins are installed one month before we hand over the aircraft to the customer and if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed we don’t have much time to solve it. With Windchill we can iron out any problems before we get to that stage.” In addition, he adds; “The beauty of it is that we are able to tap into the design and engineering know-how from all of the national entities. There’s a lot of talent out there and for the first time we are all working with the same system and using the same processes and language.” (Airbus 2007) PTC’s Windchill DMU also makes change and customization management easier, and helps in assessing aircraft maintainability and in defining maintenance operations. The DMU has already been used for detecting potential problems in A340 cabins and is being used extensively on the A380. (PTC 2009)
Sometimes designers set out to create something gorgeous. Sometimes it is an environmental coup, and sometimes a technological breakthrough. Often their goals seem more mundane, like wrestling with the laws of physics to shave an inch off the width of the back of the cheapest seat in an aircraft. “It doesn’t sound like much,” admitted Marc Newson, who tackled that very challenge when designing the cabin of the A380 double-decker jumbo jet for the Australian airline Qantas. “But its mind bogglingly difficult, and that extra inch makes a big difference. It could save someone from having to bend their knees throughout a long-haul flight.” (Newson 2007)
Slimming down the cheap seats by a few centimeters was one of hundreds of design challenges faced by Newson’s team in its work on the Qantas A380, which made its first flight to Sydney in August and is to start commercial flights in October. Its interior looks more restrained than those of the first airlines to have unveiled their A380s: Singapore Airlines with its first-class suites and Emirates with first-class showers. Qantas has spurned such show stopping features in favor of a sprucely futuristic style, seating as many people as comfortably as possible in the confined space of the cabin. (Newson 2007)
After decades of conservatism in airline design, the A380 is an opportunity to do something different for the simple reason that it has more cabin space than its archrival, the Boeing 747. When Airbus, the A380’s manufacturer, unveiled its plans for the super jumbo jet, it depicted it as a flying pleasure palace with bars and spas. Yet Qantas and most of the other airlines order the A380 have allocated most of the extra space to more seats. There are 450 in Qantas’s A380, against 412 in its 747s. “Our job is to look at everything in the cabin, all of the thousands of little details, most of which the passengers will never notice, and to make sure that they’re intelligently designed,” said Newson.
Yet the design language of the Qantas A380 is defined less by what the passenger’s see, than by how they feel. Given that flat beds, cashmere blankets and every other airline “innovation” are instantly copied by the competition, Newson has tried to distinguish Qantas’s aircraft with intelligent detailing. This involved the old-fashioned design process of analyzing every component of the cabin to identify how it could best be made and laid out with the latest technology. (Mutzabaugh 2007)
Among the other details are bassinettes with state-of-the-art upholstery to help babies sleep more comfortably, and, instead of the customary metal footrests, mesh ones that stop passengers from sliding forward. In first class, there is a small screen next to the big one, where you can see the map of the flight while watching a movie, and a control pad on the seat backs so the cabin crew can switch off the lights or close the shutters without stretching across sleeping passengers.
Then there are the light-emitting diodes (or LEDs) that illuminate the cabin. They are pre-programmed to wash the interior with subtly different colors that change throughout the flight. Each shade is selected to create the ideal mood for sleeping, waking, eating, or whatever, regardless of time zone. “Designing an aircraft is like creating a mini-world,” Newson said. “You’re putting people in a confined environment and controlling how they’ll feel with the oxygen, humidity, and everything they touch and see. It all has an effect.”
How the manufacturing operations of the aircraft are organized.
The Airbus A380 produced some issues for the development team at Airbus. It is typical for Airbus to construct their aircraft in up to four different European countries and the all the various parts are assembly in France. The Airbus A380 is no different, manufacturing of the components take place in United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and France. However, the sheer size of the A380s components meant the A300-600, Airbus’ designated Super Transporter, which normally ferries the main sections of Airbus aircraft from its European countries is too small to be used, instead giant barges and trucks were specially designed to transport all the parts.
The fuselage and vertical stabilizer manufacturing and assembly takes place at Nordenham and Stade sites in North Germany, with final assembly of the fuselage and vertical stabilizer-taking place in Hamburg North Germany. Nordenham produces the fuselage shells; they are then shipped to Hamburg in large special containers using a roll-on-roll-off system. Once in Hamburg, the assembled of the fuselage shells is dealt with in the new Major Component Assembly plant. The Hamburg plant delivers three A380 fuselage sections: the forward section behind the cockpit, the rear fuselage section, and the upper half of the fuselage shell above the wings, and fits cabin interiors, painting and final inspection. These components are transported to St Nazaire for further assembly. (Webb 2005)
In Hamburg, the rear and part of the forward fuselage are loaded on to the Ville de Bordeaux, a 154-metre roll on/roll off ferry specially built for this operation. The ferry then sails to Mostyn Harbor in Wales and is met by a barge that has twice traveled 35 kilometers along the River Dee, each time carrying one wing built at Broughton. (Airbus 2007)
Broughton is where final assemble of the wings take place from small components built there and at Filton, in North Wales. Parts are built in the “West Factory”, currently believed to be the largest factory built in the UK, with the floor area equivalent to 12 full size football fields.
Once assembled A380 wings are sent out individually from the factory by road to the nearby River Dee, then by river-barge to Mostyn where a pair is loaded onto the Ville De Bordeaux for transportation to France. At St Nazaire, the partly built forward fuselage is swapped for a complete forward fuselage with cockpit as well as a complete centre fuselage. Further, at Pauillac, the parts supported on giant jigs are unloaded on to a pontoon using a multiple purpose vehicle. The vessel then sets off to Cadiz, Spain before returning to Pauillac, France. (Webb 2005)
Airbus plants in Spain produce the horizontal tail, the rear tail cone, and the belly fairing for the A380. They provide Airbus with some of the world’s best expertise in the use of composite materials. The A380’s horizontal tail and belly fairing have been built at Getafe and Puerto Real. At Illescas, innovative technologies used at the advanced composites centre, allowing for the manufacture of large curvature panels. With parts manufactured at Illescas the A380 horizontal tail is designed and initially assembled at Getafe. (Webb 2005) Here an extension houses the new fiber placement machines relocated to Puerto Real for final assembly and the installation of the hydraulic, electrical, fuel and flight control systems and final testing. The specially built A380 transport ship, the Ville de Bordeaux, collects the tail from Puerto Real for the journey to back to France. At Pauillac, the parts are transferred from the pontoon to another barge that transports them, making four trips in all, 95 km along the River Garonne to Langon where they are transferred via a wet lock to a convoy of trailers. The convoy then travels 240 kms by road to Toulouse and final assembly, always at night and at low speed to minimize disturbance. With two daylight-parking stops along the way, each journey takes three nights to complete. (Airbus 2007)
This research focused on the production and procurement of the Airbus A380. How Airbus’ research led to the justification and showed an open market for the design features of the A380. Airbus has filled the need of a 500 plus seat passenger airliner with the A380 series aircraft. Demonstrated how the A380 fits into the product strategy of today and global airline market of Airbus tomorrow, by filling the void that will be left by and aging 747. The A380 will thrive in the market, providing flights in Asia and from Asia to Europe. Briefly showed how Airbus has capitalized on the use of computer modeling and virtual 3D graphics to enable an aircraft to be designed and manufactured as parts across different countries, brought to a central location and assembled.
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