With the Airbus A380 scheduled to enter service at the end of this year, it won't be long before travelers will have a close look at the biggest passenger plane ever built. But the finished aircraft is only part of the A380 story. Equally fascinating are the logistics of building this double-decker behemoth. Climb aboard and take a peek
A Big, Big Nose Job
Workers inspect the nose section of an A380 under construction at St. Nazaire, on France's Atlantic coast. Sections of the fuselage are built at this factory, then shipped by sea, river, and highway for final assembly in Toulouse.
In Stade, Germany, an A380 tailfin is loaded onto a transport plane. The plane, nicknamed the Beluga because of its bulbous profile, can accommodate the 24.1-meter-high tailfin, which is longer than the wing of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. But other A380 parts are too big and have to be shipped by land or sea.
An A380 wing under construction at an Airbus factory in Broughton, North Wales. A new factory had to be built to accommodate the 46-meter-long wing, which is taller than a nine-story building.
What's "Megaplane" in Welsh?
Wings Over Water
With a pair of A380 wings stowed in its hold, a ferry steams toward the mouth of the Garonne River in France, enroute from Wales. The oceangoing ferry, christened the Ville de Bordeaux, was custom-built for Airbus at a Chinese shipyard.
A barge carrying an A380 wing passes under the 19th-century Pont de Pierre on the Garonne River in Bordeaux, France. The pilings of the historic bridge were reinforced to guard against collisions with barges carrying pieces of the megaplane.
Wide Load Ahead
Custom-built flatbed trucks ferry A380 parts from Bordeaux to Toulouse. Airbus and the French government split the cost of widening and straightening this highway, which is closed to traffic several nights a month so the convoys can pass.
Sixteen Football Fields could fit inside the A380 assembly plant in Toulouse. Five test aircraft have already been built here, and construction is under way on A380s to be delivered by the end of this year to Singapore Airlines, the first customer.
Roll 'em In
Workers help roll a chunk of A380 fuselage into place at the Toulouse assembly plant. Note the three levels inside the fuselage: Two passenger decks, with a cargo hold at the bottom.
Snap 'em Together
O.K., it's a little harder than putting together a Lego toy, but with the wings and fuselage built elsewhere, final assembly in Toulouse takes surprisingly little time. Airbus says it expects to build four A380s per month after production ramps up next year.
Roll 'em Out
A finished A380, one of five test aircraft, being towed onto a runway at Toulouse. It will be flown to another Airbus facility in Hamburg, Germany, for painting and interior outfitting.