The Airbus A380 rolled through a French town for the last time

Feb 28, 2020

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The biggest passenger aeroplane in the world, and a TPG favourite, is about to fly into the dustbin of history. But before it does, the Airbus A380 has some spectacular tricks left to show the world. On Thursday night, it performed one of them for the last time.

A convoy of trucks transporting A380 parts ready to be assembled traversed the French village of Lévignac, on the way to the Airbus plant near Toulouse. Since the European planemaker began building A380s in the mid-2000s, it’s been a ritual happening a few times a year, with the entire village turning out to see the giant pieces wheeled through the town, dwarfing the houses. Thursday was when the last full six-truck convoy — including three pieces of the fuselage, the tail, and the wings — passed through Lévignac, with just inches to spare.

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A French-based photographer who monitors closely the Airbus assembly plant in Toulouse tweeted a video of the event.

A380s, like all modern jetliners, are assembled from components built around the world. Because of its sheer size, getting those components to the Toulouse assembly plant is a gigantic logistical undertaking: the wings are built in the U.K., the front half of the fuselage in France and the back half in Germany, the tail in Spain and Germany — a completed A380 includes parts from dozens of countries. Airbus has a fleet of ships, barges and trucks that bring all those pieces to France, while the engines, built in the U.K. and U.S., can be flown to Toulouse on cargo jets.     

The pieces are so massive that French authorities had to widen roads and modify intersections along the way, creating a special path for the A380, known in French as Itineraire à Grand Gabarit or “large-size itinerary.” The IGG even has its own site, run by the French Environment Ministry, where you can see schedules and plan a visit along the route for the dates when the convoys are rolling. (Always at night, to minimise disruption to civilian traffic.)

While this was the last full convoy, including six trucks, there will be another, smaller one, an Airbus spokesperson told TPG in an email. It will be in April, carrying just the fuselage for an A380 the company identified as “MSN 272.” That stands for the 272nd aircraft off the line, as identified by manufacturer’s serial number. According to a list published by independent site Planespotters and confirmed by Airbus, MSN272 will go to Emirates and will be the very last A380 made. The assembly line will close for good in 2021, but Emirates will continue flying its many A380s for years. Other airlines are likely to keep flying A380s too, at least until the 2030s. “Airbus provides continuing support and improvement on this fleet,” the company spokesperson said.    

According to Airbus, there are just nine A380s left to deliver to customers: eight will go to Emirates and one, in April, to All Nippon Airways.         

While the double-decker giant has been a commercial failure, it’s popular with passengers, who appreciate its quiet, stable ride and ample room — although whether your experience matches that perception might largely depend on what airline and class you fly. You might get a subpar premium-economy product on Air France, or a flight for the ages in Etihad’s first class. Either way, you can still get on an A380 using your points and miles.

Featured photo by  Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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