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Airbus A380
Construction of the A380
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The Airbus A380 is truly an amazing feat of construction. Ususally a cargo plane known as the Beluga, built by Airbus transports the fuselages for their airplanes around the world to be assembled. However, the Beluga has nowhere near the room for an A380 fuselage, so Airbus has had to resort to alternate forms of transportation to move its A380 parts to the assembly plants.
 
An Airbus Beluga transport plane. The Beluga is named after the whale it looks like.
 

Thousands of suppliers in 30 countries have been involved in the construction of the A380 at some point, from the very large to the very small. The aluminium skins for the wings, for example, are made at the world's largest aluminium mill in Iowa, USA - the only plant in the world big enough to make pieces big enough for the A380. The finished sheets are so big that Airbus had to design a special truck trailer to transport them to the coast for shipping.

At every stage of its design, the sheer scale of the project has thrown up new problems that have required completely new approaches. Even the plumbing and in-flight entertainment systems have necessitated the creation of record-breaking design and testing facilities.

A convoy transporting parts for the A380

Parts for the A380 are shipped to sub-assembly plants all over the European mainland where the individual components of the aircraft are put together. The wings are assembled in Wales at a plant the size of 12 football pitches, for example, and are built from 32,000 individual parts connected by 23 miles of wiring. Other parts of the aircraft undergo similar assembly processes elsewhere - the fuselage in Germany, the rudder and tailplane in Spain, the cockpit in France.

Once assembled, nearly all of the major components are so large and heavy that they can only be transported to the final assembly plant in France by river and sea, often on specially built ships that can only navigate the Garonne river for a few hours at the lowest part of the tide. And that's not the end of the problems - Airbus had to expand or strengthen many of the roads from the river to the final assembly location to cope with the vast size and weight of the convoys delivering the components.

An almost-completed Airbus A380

All of the parts are then put together at Airbus' main assembly plant in Toulouse, France,  to make up one A380. Airbus will need to find faster ways to construct the A380 if they are to keep up with their orders. Construction of the next A380 for Singapore Airlines will be completed in about six months. Airbus claims that soon they will be building at least four planes a month.