Following the delivery of the crucial Rear Center Tank earlier this month, Airbus has now begun the assembly of the world’s first A321XLR. The long-range narrowbody aircraft is being built in a dedicated hangar at Airbus’ Hamburg plant, separate from the main A320 family production lines.
First A321XLR under construction
It’s happening. The very first A321XLR has begun assembly at Airbus in Germany, with the center and rear fuselages now under construction. Following the delivery of the first fully equipped Rear Center Tank (RCT) by Premium AEROTEC earlier this month, Airbus has now got to work putting all the parts together.
At the planemaker’s Hamburg facility, the first A321XLR will come together on a dedicated ‘Structure Pilot Line.’ Speaking about the commencement of assembly, Martin Schnoor, Head of A321XLR Program Development, commented,
“It’s a major milestone for the A321XLR programme. The teams can be proud of this achievement and the overall speed of industrialization. We are on track with our planning. The pilot line dedicated to the A321XLR is ready and waiting to operate the assembly phases for the first flight test aircraft, all the way through to the entry into service.”
Sticking to timelines can be difficult enough for aircraft manufacturers in normal times. Given that Airbus has been grappling with all the challenges of the pandemic over the past 12 months, it’s a huge achievement to have been able to maintain its schedule for this gamechanging new aircraft.
Key to the new aircraft is its RCT, which holds up to 13,100 liters of fuel, giving the aircraft its significant range. Stephan Meyer, Head of A321XLR Industrial Centre Aft Fuselage, noted that, given the collaborative nature of Airbus’ manufacturing operations, the COVID-19 impact had been a challenge. He said,
“It was yet another significant challenge, but we quickly adapted using digital means with a “co-design approach” to achieve a solution for the aircraft. We are proud of this great product, developed and industrialized under such difficult circumstances, which is well underway.”
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Building a masterpiece
Airbus has been working hard on the various components that will go into this first A321XLR. In mid-April, it began assembling Section 15, which includes the center wing box, manufactured in its own Nantes plant, and the Rear Flange Module, also supplied by Premium AEROTEC.
These sections are assembled on a dedicated production line in Hangar 260 in Hamburg. This is a pilot assembly line that has been consciously made separate from the main A320 lines so that the XLR production can begin ramping up without affecting the existing single-aisle production.
Even developing the production line itself was a high-tech operation. Utilizing 3D modeling and design capabilities, the line has been optimized to allow smart integration of the XLR’s design data from the outset. Meyer explained,
“The coherent 3D design enabled optimum development of the overall A321XLR’s industrial system. In addition we were able to validate the design digitally taking account of ergonomics, operations and logistics beforehand.”
Over the next few weeks, the Airbus team will fully integrate the RCT module into section 17, and will begin structural assembly of the second test aircraft. By autumn, the team will move on to equipment assembly of the first aircraft, and that will be followed by flight test equipment being installed.
With everything on track for the production schedule of the A321XLR, Airbus looks set to meet its goal of entry into service in 2023.