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25 November 2016 - Marlis Torka / Silke Albrecht

Aircraft construction at close quarters – behind the scenes at the Airbus Group

ECOMAT / lightweight construction

What makes an aircraft fly? You don't have to be an aerospace expert to be fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes at one of the largest aircraft construction companies in the world. The Airbus Group in Bremen turns the dream of flying into reality. We were given the unique opportunity to watch engineers, mechanics and technicians at work inside the Bremen plant.

Our tour starts outside the factory. Swiftly passing through the security gates in the main building, we enter the vast world of Airbus – and that is meant quite literally. The 4,500 or so employees in Bremen work in an area covering 450,000 square metres. Streets, cycle paths, countless buildings – the site is huge and it is almost impossible to take it all in. The orderly nature of the entire operation belies the complexity of the work that goes on here: this is industrial engineering at the very highest level.

The vast Airbus Group site at Bremen Airport-City
The vast Airbus Group site at Bremen Airport-City brings together the expertise of aviation and aerospace specialists. © Airbus © Airbus

It takes to the skies and lands again safely – thanks to the Bremen plant

The Airbus facility in Bremen is the company's second-largest site in Germany and is located at Bremen Airport-City. The site used to be home to the German aircraft manufacturer Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG (later Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke), which was founded in 1923.
On our first stop on the tour, we see the production of landing flaps. These are located in the wings of the aircraft. They provide greater lift at lower speeds, i.e. during take-off and landing. We see a whole series of landing flaps, lined up one after the other. The Bremen plant manufactures these for all models of Airbus aircraft. What is striking is that, for an industrial facility, the huge hall is unbelievably quiet. Valeska Tramp, who works in the Communications Department at Airbus in Bremen and is one of the guides on our tour, explains the production process:

"Every part has its own area. We run a systematic method of production on a just-in-time basis. Some steps in the process are still done by hand."

-Valeska Tramp, Airbus Communications Department

"In this area, we deploy drilling robots where it makes sense to do so – for example, on the A380 because of its size and on the A320 family because of the high production volumes. From spring 2017 we will supply 50 aircraft a month of this model alone."

The production of landing flaps at Airbus Bremen
The production of landing flaps – the first stop on our tour © Airbus © Airbus

Around 160 landing flaps of various types are manufactured in Bremen every month. While the inner landing flap for the A320, the smallest Airbus model, is a 'mere' 4.4 metres long and 1.2 metres wide, the same part on the A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world with up to 800 seats, is 7.5 metres long and three metres wide. A difference in size that seems vast to the naked eye.

From the landing flaps to the wings

The next hall, which is dedicated to wing equipment, seems even more enormous. At five stations, around 80 large components, 300 units, 390 metres of hydraulic hose and 23 kilometres of electrical cable are fitted to the wings of the A330 and A350 XWB long-haul aircraft. The A330 wings arrive empty from the UK weighing around 13 tonnes. They leave Bremen for Toulouse fully equipped after a laborious installation process and around three tonnes heavier. The fully equipped wings are then transported by air on the Airbus cargo aircraft, the Beluga, for final assembly.

AIRBUS Bremen: fitting out the wing
Many of the processes involved in fitting out the wings are carried out by hand © Airbus © Airbus

The superlative A400M

Continuing our tour, we enter the third assembly hall, devoted to the A400M, the state-of-the art military transport aircraft manufactured by the Airbus Group. Development and assembly of the A400M fuselage are located in Bremen. As soon as we step inside, we are greeted by the colossal fuselage of an A400M. We ask whether there is any competition between the sites that produce the A400M. Without the slightest hesitation, Valeska Tramp denies any form of rivalry. "The good thing about the Airbus Group is that all the sites complement each other and, because of their particular areas of focus and expertise, form an effective and well-coordinated network."

AIRBUS Bremen: The largest production part, the A400M fuselage
We got to see the largest production part, the A400M fuselage, on the third stop of our tour © Airbus © Airbus

Similarly there appears to be no trace of competition or rivalry between the aviation and aerospace employees at the Bremen facility. The site is generally used for both fields and the research findings obtained here are of benefit to all.

For more information on the Airbus Group, please contact Andreas Eickhoff, tel: +49 (0)421 361-32179, andreas.eickhoff@wah.bremen.de
Further information on Bremen as a centre for the aerospace and aviation industry can be found in our section on aerospace.

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