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Last week, the final Airbus A380 ran its engines for the first time. With the program’s nearing conclusion, Airbus is left with an enormous industrial footprint to fill. There is no better illustration of the shift in Airbus’s priorities than watching the sunset of the hub-to-hub A380, only to have the A321XLR, a small point-to-point single-aisle, take its place in its factories at the Hamburg-Finkenwerder Airport in Germany.

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Hangar 260 on the banks of the Elbe River, until recently, was filled with parts for the A380’s three level rear fuselage. Panels of metal, glass and carbon fiber reinforced plastic were built up along to form the last third of the superjumbo. Each was then sent along by ship and road convoy to Toulouse for final assembly. Today, Hangar 260 has been converted to be an initial production pilot line for major component assembly (MCA) for the A321XLR, a jetliner capable of flying as far as 4,700 nautical miles.

Airbus's Hangar 260 at Hamburg-Finkenwerder Airport.

Airbus’s Hangar 260 at Hamburg-Finkenwerder Airport.

Michael Menking, Head of the A320 program for Airbus, sat down with The Air Current last week to detail the status of the A321XLR. The next evolution of the 244-seat A321neo is picking up speed as it advances toward initial assembly. “Without a doubt…the XLR is the high priority, if not to say the highest priority, we have currently inside Airbus,” he said.

Last April, when Airbus was scaling back all aspects of its business as global commercial aviation was grinding to a halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, chief executive Guillaume Faury said there would be no let up in the A321XLR’s development. “We believe more than ever…in the relevance of that product.”

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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