By mid-2016 there were over 1,300 Airbus aircraft in operation in China, mostly of the wildly successful A320 family. This was a growth of over 50 times in the past 20 years and Airbus has been much quicker to recognise and accept China's importance than its rival Boeing has. It was comparatively way back in 2008 that Airbus opened its Final Assembly Line China (FALC) at Tianjin, whilst Boeing has only in late 2016 signed a deal for a finishing line for its 737s to be operated from Zhoushan. It'll be interesting to see whether the Trump presidency has an impact on that! Even if it goes ahead Boeing's line will only finish the already built 737s, installing in them interiors and applying the paint. Airbus' plant does a lot more as it is a full assembly line, albeit of pre-built components.
The decision by Airbus to build the plant was a major gamble considering the problems and eventual failure McDonnell Douglas experienced with its MD-80/90 Trunkliner project. Airbus sought to avoid many of these issues by avoiding Tianjin actually building the aircraft. Even the components built in China (Xian Aircraft makes A320-family wing-boxes and electronic bay doors, Shanghai Aircraft makes A320-family cargo doors and Harbin Aircraft has secured a deal to make some composite parts) were sent to Europe for completion and initial assembly. In addition Airbus strictly controlled the workforce hiring only 3% of it from AVIC. Lastly the entire plant was a copy and paste of the Hamburg version of it in Germany making it easy to get going.
The FALC began operations on September 28, 2008. The first A320 to roll off the Tianjin assembly line was destined for Sichuan Airlines via Dragon Aviation Leasing. Delivery took place on June 23, 2009 of B-6388 with the aircraft wearing a beautiful Chinese dragon livery - with the dragon curling around the fuselage. It was the first Airbus assembled outside of Europe and was the first of 11 to be assembled at the plant in 2009. The Tianjin plant is a joint venture between Airbus and a consortium made up of the Tianjin Free Trade Zone and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
In terms of the assembly process Airbus explains it as:
'A320 fuselages arrive at the final assembly lines in two segments, which are joined at Station 41 – beginning the aircraft build-up sequence. The completed fuselage is lifted into duplicated positions, designated Station 40 and 35, where the two wings are mated, along with the integration of engine pylons and landing gear.The A320 Family jetliners then move to a multi-purpose bay for system tests, and the aircraft is readied for cabin installation. This clears the way for the final operations: engine installation, fuel and pressurisation tests, painting, engine run-up and flight testing, followed by aircraft acceptance and delivery.'
Despite some initial 'anxiety and a little doubt' the Tianjin Airbuses have proven the equal of their European assembled counterparts. Other customers within the first year were Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and China Eastern. The plant gradually ramped production up to 4 aircraft a month by the end of 2011. Indeed 26 A320s were assembled in 2010, 36 in 2011, 37 in 2012 and 46 in 2013.
The 100th Tianjin Airbus was delivered on August 31, 2012. By then 11 Chinese airlines had received A320s from Tianjin. In May 2013 the first Sharklet equipped A320 was delivered (to China Eastern - for more see this blog entry) and in late 2014 the 200th (an A319 also for China Eastern) came off the line.
By October 2016 the Tianjin line, now renamed the Asia Final Assembly Line had delivered 39 A320 family aircraft and was on course to deliver its 300th A320 by the end of the year. Airbus has also gazumped Boeing on the widebody side of things too announcing in 2015 that it would build a complimentary A330 line in Tianjin, though this would not be an assembly line just a finishing line. Groundbreaking for the new plant took place in March 2016 and when complete it will cover such activities as aircraft reception, cabin installation, painting, engine runs and flight testing, as well as aircraft delivery and customer acceptance. It's clear to see that Airbus' gamble in China has paid off handsomely and that Airbus will secure a substantial chunk of the market well into the future.
Final Assembly Lines Airbus.com
Airbus in China Airbus.com
2009, June. Airbus delivers 1st China-assembled A320 jet China Aviation Daily
2009, June. Airbus' China-made jet takes wing China Aviation Daily
2012, August. Assembly line in China completes the 100th A320 Family aircraft Airbus.com
2013 May. First Chinese assembled A320 with Sharklets goes to China Eastern
2016 October. Airshow - Airbus Tianjin Plant to Deliver the 300th A320 Family Aircraft by Year-End China Aviation Daily
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: