It has now been 116 years since humankind “learned to fly”, marking the date when brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright first took to the skies of Kitty Hawk in 1903 in their “Wright Flyer”. Since then, flying has become a matter of course over the years. It is easy to overlook the enormous effort behind aviation in general and the production of new aircraft in particular. I was now able to experience this first hand.
SWISS is currently undergoing the biggest fleet modernisation in its history. 12 Boeing 777-300ERs and 29 Airbus A220s have been added to the fleet since 2016. The Airbus A320neo is next in line. In spring 2020, it will take off for the first time with the Swiss flag on its tail unit. SWISS’s first “Neo” is currently being assembled in Hamburg. To my delight, SWISS has invited me and other spotters to the Airbus factory Finkenwerder for this occasion.
Early in the morning, we took off heading north. A little more than an hour later, we reached the Hanseatic metropolis of Hamburg. By bus, it took us around 30 minutes to the factory in Finkenwerder.
The day started with a delicious buffet and a short introduction to the A320neo family. Already with the classic Airbus A320 family, the European aircraft manufacturer has made quite a splash. When development work started in the 1980s; pundits estimated that the Airbus A320 would see around 600 orders. To date, the company has 15,193 orders from over 300 customers. In purely statistical terms, an A320 takes off every two seconds somewhere on the planet. The Airbus A320neo will continue this success story with many improvements.
Neo stands for “New Engine Option” and describes the most striking feature of the new aircraft type very well. The new engines, which are remarkably large (its diameter is around 2.05 m wider than the hulls of most business jets), are both more fuel-efficient and significantly quieter. Compared to the “normal” A320, the A320neo consumes around 20% less kerosene per seat. This fits in well with SWISS’s overall fleet strategy. Since 2003, SWISS has reduced average fuel consumption per seat by 29% by investing in a more modern fleet. The “Neo” is less thirsty and quieter. But what else? Airbus has of course not only considered the environment and the people living near Zurich Airport, but also designed ways how to enhance the travel experience of passengers. The manufacturer has managed to make the already wide cabin (7 inches wider than that of the Boeing 737) even wider by adding a new fairing.
But enough technical data for now. Our way led us to hall 14 of the Airbus factory, more precisely to line 3, station 41, where the aircraft with the serial number 9246 was waiting for us. At that time, only the cockpit and the fuselage section were assembled to the so-called “ton”. Next, the wings, engines, landing gear and sharklets are gradually being assembled and the first Airbus A320neo from SWISS is taking shape.
The various parts are manufactured throughout Europe. For final assembly they are flown to Finkenwerder in an Airbus A330, the “Beluga”, which has been specially converted for this purpose by Airbus. The cockpit and the front fuselage section, for example, come from France, the cabin from Germany, and the wings from Great Britain. Incidentally, the assembly of the more than 300,000 individual parts is largely manual work and is performed by the more than 13,000 employees on site in shifts. The aircraft moves from one station to the next almost like on an assembly line system.
This marked the end of a very impressive day for me. I hope you enjoyed my impressions from the Airbus factory in Finkenwerder. I for one can hardly wait to see the A320neo in the SWISS colour scheme for the first time.
About the author: Aaron Püttmann (@pilotstories), 26, studied Aviation Management in Bad Honnef and now works for a major global aviation company as a Cargo Charter Consultant. In addition, he runs the aviation blog Pilotstories, where he shares his passion for flying with his readers.
Text & Photos: Aaron Püttmann