Airbus on Tuesday said it will start producing the largest variant of its narrowbody family in Toulouse, ending months of speculation about how the European airframer would use the ‘Lagardère’ hall that now assembles the A380s and whose production will stop at the end of 2021. The decision to install an A321 final assembly line (FAL) in Toulouse also dashes the hopes of Airbus’s German division to keep the European production capabilities of the A321 under its wings at Hamburg.
Airbus has eight A320 family aircraft FALs globally—four in Hamburg, two in Toulouse, one in Tianjin, China, and one in Mobile, Alabama—although at present the A321 gets assembled and delivered from only Hamburg and Mobile, to mainly U.S. customers. The company said it selected Toulouse for the new A321 line for several reasons such as “overall competitiveness, time to market, investment cost, available floor space, and resources.” A source close to the decision told AIN that the OEM’s new top management, in place since last year, also considered the need to increase industrial flexibility, efficiency, and stability of A321 assembly. The Hamburg site nonetheless will keep most of the model’s production, the person said.
The strategy to bring the assembly and delivery closer to the customers will most likely also prompt an analysis of a rate increase of the Tianjin FAL, which currently assembles just six single-aisle jets per month. Asia accounts for 35 percent of the Airbus commercial aircraft order book.
Airbus expects the Toulouse A321 FAL to become operational in the second half of 2022 and integrate the latest technologies, including a high level of digitization and robotization that will mirror innovation introduced at the Hamburg FAL opened last fall.
The overall single-aisle industrial capacity at Toulouse will remain “flat,” Airbus said, because the oldest A319/A320 assembly line will close for renovation when the new A321 FAL opens. Narrowbody production in Toulouse will gradually shift from A319s and A320ceos to Neos. “We are enjoying an unprecedented high demand for our winning A320neo family and especially its A321 Long Range (LR) and Extra Long Range (XLR) derivatives,” said Airbus COO Michael Schoellhorn. “In order to optimize the industrial flow, we have decided to increase our global A321 production capacity and flexibility as well as to establish a next-generation final assembly line in Toulouse.”
At the end of December, Airbus’s orderbook showed it had won orders for 15,315 A320 family jets, including 7,188 A319/A320/A321neos for 113 customers. Of those, 21 customers expect to take 417 A321XLRs, scheduled to become available starting in 2023. The European airframer delivered 641 A320 family jets in 2019, including 551 Neos. While initially a niche product, the A321 now accounts for 40 percent of the order backlog of the A320 family.