By Frederic Friedel

For many years now Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport, which is part of Airbus Operations, has been responsible for the final assembly of all models of the Airbus A320. The factory is just 20 km from my home — 11 km the way the crow (and an Airbus) flies. And we have a friend, Birgit, who works there. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is responsible for making sure the fuel lines and tanks are optimized and safe.

When Finkenwerder, some years ago, took on the final construction phase of the new Airbus A380, Birgit invited us to a “family day” at her company, to see the largest commercial airliner in the world up close. The plane was still in the development phase and had not yet carried commercial passengers.

So we drove over and joined the crowd — with 15,000 employees it is quite a big family. We first visited the construction and fitting halls for the tiny A320, a short to medium-range, narrow-body, twin-engine commercial passenger airliner.

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The initial construction hall of the A320, where the body is being assembled in two stories.
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Well, it is tiny (am I repeating myself?) but still impressive to see up close, during construction.
All of this is nothing when you reach the Airbus A380 construction hall, where things become truly ridiculous.
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The two decks of the A380. It’s like photographing a giant Sequoia tree: impossible to show exactly how huge it is.
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One thing you know when standing in front of a small section of the A380: this thing is never going to FLY!
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Then they bring one out for you [ you know that you can click on the images here to get a larger size]…
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… and it actually takes off. It’s like an ocean liner or a block of houses suddenly becoming airborne.
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For some reason it reminds me of the Monty Python scene where the Permanent Assurance Company, a stone office building in the heart of London, suddenly weighs anchor, attacks The Very Big Corporation of Americas skyscraper, and then sails out to sea. Equally unreal…

We’ve all seen an A380 take off at an airport, somewhere in the distance, but it is a different matter seeing it at close quarters.

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Just to make a point the A380 flew by a couple of times — a flying behemoth.

Soon after this, when the plane had just entered commercial service, our son Tommy made sure that the Air France flight we booked on one of our regular trips to California was on an A380. When he heard about this our kind and sensitive host in San Jose, Ken, commented: “So you’ll be flying on a plane that they are still beta testing?” At boarding time I asked if we could get seats near the tennis court, not the swimming pool. The look on the check-in clerk’s face told me that I was being flippant. But inside, the two-storied flying city block was every bit as big as it seemed from the outside.

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This is the general structure of the A380 interior—Airbus.com also has a nice video for you to watch
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The stairs to the A380’s upper deck area, already implemented for some commercial carriers
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Bar on an Emirates A380

Coming soon: truly ridiculous planes…

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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