WATCH: How is PAL's A350 fleet assembled?

Aviation Updates Philippines – Although Philippine Airlines has already accepted the delivery of its six brand-new Airbus A350-941 XWB aircraft, it's still fascinating to learn and discover how these huge, modern masterpieces were manufactured by leading European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

To recall, PAL received the first A350 on its fleet, RP-C3501, on June 28, 2018. It was a proud moment for the national flag carrier, especially with renowned aviation vlogger Sam Chui aboard its delivery flight from Toulouse, France.

The delivery of the first aircraft flabbergasted aviation enthusiasts in the Philippines, and even worldwide. I, for one, was dazzled by the sui generis beauty of the A350 as it passed overhead on approach to Davao's Runway 05 two years ago.

An Airbus A350-941 XWB of Philippine Airlines rolling down Manila's Runway 24. Photo by JC Pascual, AUP

On-board the state-of-the-art aircraft are 30 business class, 24 premium economy, and 241 economy seats. Compared to PAL's older long-haul aircraft, the A350 offered a more modern, unparalleled flying experience — there's mood lighting, too!

Now, how is it made?

Assembling aircraft isn't a small feat. It takes careful coordination and planning, from the customers to the suppliers and the manufacturer itself. No wonder aircraft deliveries take a long time, ranging from several months to years. 

In PAL's case, Jaime Bautista, former President and Chief Operating Officer of the airline, firmed the orders for six A350 jets in April 2016.  During the Singapore Air Show 2016, the flag carrier signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for this agreement.

Before starting the production, PAL and Airbus, like any other customer, need to finalize the design, features installed, and cabin configuration of the aircraft. Like cars, airplanes may also be reconfigured depending on the airline's need, brand, and liking.

First, aircraft parts are not made onsite. Most are also not made by Airbus. With this, the manufacturer partners with suppliers to provide Airbus with necessary parts to complete the airframe, such as engines, electronic systems, fuel systems, and in-flight entertainment, among others.

Vital parts, like the wings, leading and trailing edges, fuselages, pylon and nacelles, and stabilizers, are flown to Toulouse, France, the site of the final assembly line (FAL) for the Airbus A350 fleet. In Toulouse, Airbus has four separate FALs for the Airbus A320 family, the Airbus A330 family, the Airbus A350 family, and the Airbus A380.

Photo from Airbus

Once separate parts arrive on site via the Airbus Beluga, the actual construction can pursue. To start, cabin monuments are installed for then-unconnected fuselage pieces. Then, structural fuselages are connected. Afterwhich, it will be transported to another station to attach the wings and to test the cabin electrical systems.

Photo from Airbus

Delivered fresh from Germany and Spain, the tail cone, rudders, and the horizontal and vertical stabilizers will now be joined. On the same station, engine pylons and landing gear struts will be installed.

Onto the next station, an indoor ground test may now start. At this point, the cabin starts to be configured with specifications coming from customer airlines. The type of seat, the aisle and seat numbering, the theme of the whole concept, and so forth, are all based on the customer's preferences.

The aircraft, now almost structurally completed, will now be out of the hangars to do some ground tests. It is still unpainted and engine-less at that stage; however, the tail might already be painted with the airline's livery. 

Later on, after doing some ground tests, the fuselage will now receive its colors. Spray painting the aircraft starts with applying the primer and the topcoat. The aircraft paint plays a vital role in maintaining its airworthiness over the years.

Photo from DN280 - JetPhotos

Lastly, at Station 20 of the FAL, engines will now be installed. At the same time, final touches and furnishes of the cockpit are done. After, certified mechanics and aircraft crew rigorously check and inspect the brand-new plane for any cracks, damages, displacements, and other irregularities.

To reassure that things are working in perfect order, test flights are organized for the next few days. Usually, there will be one or more test flights conducted before the customer acceptance flight, in which company-sent pilots try out their new asset before delivery.