Fuselage parts stand side by side in the Airbus assembly hall, each framed by a working platform. From the outside, the tail sections for the Airbus A320 and A321 model aircraft look very similar with their green undercoat. The main difference is the interior design. Once a day, an overhead crane lifts each section one box further and thus one step ahead in the manufacturing process. After ten days each, the electrics, hydraulics and insulation of a fuselage section are completely removed, and then it goes into final assembly. Among other things, the seats are installed there and the large components are assembled to form a complete aircraft. "From November onwards, the production rate for the models of the A320 family will be increased and with it the number of tail sections," says Andreas Dorstewitz, Head of Equipment Assembly in Hall 260 at the Airbus aircraft hangar in Finkenwerder, the world's third-largest location for civil aircraft construction. "Then the sections will be advanced by one station every 11 hours instead of 14 hours as at present."
Airbus, the world's leading manufacturer of civil aircraft, wants to put the consequences of the pandemic behind it. The European company, headquartered in Toulouse, is ramping up production of machines from the A320 family in particular, with the A321 and A320 models, and occasionally with the A319. These machines with a central aisle are the foundation of the Group - also because the A320 family now covers a wide range of uses, from short-haul aircraft to the long-haul aircraft A321XLR with a range of 8,700 kilometers. Before the pandemic, Airbus manufactured 63 A320 family machines per month, currently 55. By the beginning of 2024 there should be 65 machines, for 2025 75 machines per month are planned. Most of these jets come from Hamburg.
In order to be able to implement the ramp-up, Airbus founded a new subsidiary for the production of fuselage sections on July 1 after a long struggle with the employees. It is called Airbus Aerostructures (ASA) and combines production at Finkenwerder, at the locations in Bremen, Nordenham, Augsburg and Varel. Of the approximately 8,500 ASA employees, around 4,300 are based in Hamburg alone. A total of around 15,000 people currently work for Airbus in Finkenwerder, and the company is the city's largest industrial employer.
"The aviation market has picked up strongly again," says André Walter, one of the two heads of civil aircraft construction at Airbus in Germany, in a conference room in a building near Hall 260. On July 1st, the former manager of the Finkenwerder site took over the management of the newly founded ASA. The subsidiary, which also has a counterpart in France called Airbus Atlantic, is of great strategic importance for the group. "Not only are we increasing the production of our aircraft, we are also working on the zero-emission aircraft of the future," says Walter. “The fuselage is part of Airbus' core business. At ASA, we have now brought the German plants together using the same production logic.”
That was not always so. In 2009, parts of the fuselage production were outsourced to the then newly founded subsidiary Premium Aerotec in Augsburg for cost reasons. In the course of the realignment, Airbus Premium Aerotec actually wanted to split up and sell some of it. After a hard struggle with the IG Metall trade union and with the works councils in Germany, all Premium Aerotec locations will ultimately remain in the group, and most of the jobs will be integrated into ASA.
Walter sees a great deal of catching up to do when it comes to modernizing the global fleet of passenger jets: “Only around 18 percent of all commercial passenger aircraft today fly with the most economical and efficient engine technology, so more than 80 percent represent the potential for renewal.” If you were to look at the entire world -Equipping the aircraft fleet with the most modern engines could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in air traffic by a quarter. However, the renewal of aircraft stocks is not primarily driven by concerns about the climate - but above all by the high kerosene costs, which could be significantly reduced with modern aircraft.
ASA will invest around 1.2 billion euros over the next three years in the expansion and modernization of its production - and in doing so will create a number of new jobs. By the year 2025, the number of employees at ASA at all German locations is to increase from currently around 8,400 to more than 10,000. For the Hamburg location alone, 800 to 1,000 additional employees are being sought by the middle of next year. However, as part of the "Odyssey" rationalization program, more than 1,000 employees had left Airbus in Hamburg alone since the beginning of the pandemic. "Overall, we have strongly gotten back into recruiting," says Walter. “We can't simply bring ready-qualified employees to us from the job market. New employees first have to obtain a qualification and license for aircraft construction from us.” The Federal Aviation Office provides the framework for this.
When it comes to recruiting highly qualified employees, Airbus is in competition with a number of other industrial companies in Hamburg alone. The group relies on the appeal of its major goal of "making zero-emission flying a reality," says Walter. Airbus is currently pursuing three technological paths: the combustion of hydrogen from regenerative sources in turbines instead of kerosene, the combination of direct combustion and hydrogen fuel cells in hybrid drives for future aircraft and the so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), which are primarily based on biogenic fuels raw materials are based. With the new long-haul jet A321XLR, Airbus is installing an additional tank in the fuselage for the first time. The tanks for passenger aircraft are usually located in the wings. New designs for the tanks are also needed for the aircraft of the future, which are operated with hydrogen or synthetic kerosene: "In all of this," said Walter, "the manufacture of fuselage parts will play a key role for us."