Airbus has resumed work on the modernisation of its A320 Family industrial capabilities in Toulouse. This will provide Airbus with increased flexibility throughout its global industrial production system to respond to market recovery and future demand.
The modernised, digitally-enabled A320/A321 Final Assembly Line (FAL) will replace one of the original Toulouse A320 FALs. It will be installed in the former A380 Lagardère facility and should be operational by end 2022.
Production Reduction by Airbus
Initial plans to introduce A321 production capabilities in Toulouse were put on hold at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, following the decision to reduce commercial aircraft production by around 40%.
Now, with market recovery in sight and a potential return to pre-COVID production rates for single-aisle aircraft between 2023 and 2025, the aircraft manufacturer is resuming its activities for the project.
Hamburg and Mobile (Alabama) are currently the only Airbus production sites configured to assemble A321s. The modernised A320 Family FAL in Toulouse will help improve the working conditions, the overall industrial flow as well as the quality and competitiveness by adding a new-generation assembly line to the manufacturers single-aisle production system.
This higher level of A321 production flexibility will also support entry-into-service of the A321XLR from Hamburg starting in 2023.
The A320 Family is the world’s best-selling commercial aircraft, with over 15,500 aircraft sold to more than 320 customers, and over 5,650 in the backlog.
Simpleflying in a report said that the A320 family has been a great success for Airbus. In service since 1988, it has overtaken the 737 in narrow-body orders (but not deliveries). There have been many upgrades and developments, most notably, of course, the A320neo. The next version could be a new clean-sheet design, according to Airbus. And possibly in service in the early 2030s.
The Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 dominate narrow-body fleets today. The 737 has been in service since 1968 and the A320 since 1988. Both have moved through several variants but have never had a full redesign. This has advantages in development cost, certification, and commonality for airline fleets.
But there comes a time when a clean-sheet design makes sense to build in new improvements. Both Airbus and Boeing may do this over the coming decade. There has been plenty of discussion about a New Midsize Airplane (NMA) from Boeing, dubbed the 797. This was expected to be larger than the 757, but most likely a widebody. As of 2020, these plans have been put on hold.
Digitalisation to Power New Launch
There has been less discussion about a replacement for the A320 from Airbus. With the A321LR entering service and the A321XLR promising a lot when it starts flying, the A320 family still has plenty left to offer. But there are already plans at Airbus for a replacement.
The development of a new aircraft will, according to the Simpleflying article, will be driven by improvements in both aircraft and production technology. He sees advances and more digitalisation in production as critical to the launch of a new aircraft.
The report said that it seems likely that any new engine options for an A320 replacement will line up with this zero-emission project. But we are very unlikely to see a full hydrogen-powered replacement for the A320 as early as 2035.
A hybrid-electric propulsion system, however, is a likely option. Airbus has already looked at this with the E-Fan X hybrid project, but this was dropped in 2020. Rolls-Royce, however, has continued its work on electric engines that came out of the project.
France, where the main office of Airbus is held, also shares that it plans to have an Airbus A320 successor by 2030. The French government is set to invest significantly in developing the aircraft as it hopes to achieve a zero-carbon vehicle. Notably, €15bn ($17bn) will be injected into the country’s aerospace sector over the next few years.