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by Ben Merrell

Composed of 4 million distinct parts, and with a supply chain spanning 1 500 companies and 30 countries, the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, is a masterpiece of complexity. The A380 is also a case study on the importance of effective partnerships in order to tackle a problem many companies face: how can you improve the efficiency of a convoluted supply chain?

A look into where the A380’s major components are manufactured gives you a sense of the challenges involved. Each set of wings is produced in Wales, the rear fuselage and tailfin in Hamburg, the horizontal tail plane in Cadiz, and the forward and center fuselages are made in Saint-Nazaire France. Each of these components needs to be transported to Toulouse, where they are assembled, and only the tailfin is small enough to be transported by air. Thus the remaining pieces must be transported by sea via the port of Pauillac, near Bordeaux.

Originally these Ro-Ro vessels were designed to ferry A380 components between the manufacturing facilities and assembly point, all located on mainland Europe, however with the A380 being phased out by 2021, the fleet has been adapted for different runs. The LD fleet now transports many components for the A320 which recently surpassed the Boeing 737 as the highest selling airliner of all time and has perhaps an even more convoluted supply chain than the A380. While most of the fuselage sections are manufactured at the same facilities in Europe which service the A380, for some A320s the final assembly point is in Mobile, Alabama and so the components must be sailed across the Atlantic.

Given the seasonal unpredictability of the Atlantic this crossing poses a threat to maintaining Airbus’ tight production schedule. Until recently Airbus has manufactured approx 60 A320’s per month and it is paramount that the assembly lines remain in operation to ensure on-time delivery. The Mobile facility can finish 4 A320s monthly which means that a full set of components must be delivered to the plant each week. It is easy to imagine how delays might be incurred during the trip from St. Nazaire to Mobile: A hurricane in the S. Atlantic could force one of the vessels to deviate course or shelter while waiting for the storm to pass. A single delay is undesirable and given the frequency that LD conducts this run the risk posed by the crossing is magnified and because of the size and delicacy of the fuselage there are few practical alternatives to sea transport.

The risk posed by poor weather can be effectively managed by a competent weather routing agency who can foresee and adapt to hazards during the crossing. True North Marine has been working closely with LD Seaplane for the last few years in ensuring that the LD/Airbus vessels make it to destination safely and within their respective schedules. While LD addresses the transportation challenges for Airbus, TNM helps manage some of the unavoidable risks involved.

Ultimately any supply chain hinges on effective communication between the various parties and even the best laid plans can unravel in the face of misunderstanding or mistrust. TNM has strived to build a rapport with the most critical element of these ships, the Masters, and this exceptional tri-partite relationship between ship captain, LD Seaplane shore operators and TNM help make voyage after voyage free from delay.

Aside from the route to Mobile, LD Seaplane also conducts voyages from Montoir to Naples and Montoir to Tunis to transport sub-assembly components between Airbus’ dispersed production sites. Travel through the Mediterranean and up the Spanish coast can also be unpredictable, particularly in the fall and winter when low pressure systems batter the Bay of Biscay and so weather routing for these voyages is no less important. As production of the A380 winds down, the routes servicing the A320 as well as Airbus’s subsidiaries will likely be of increased importance and LD’s Ro-Ro vessels play a critical role in connecting various aspects of Airbus’ supply chain. Through our partnership with LD, TNM minimizes the risk of delay and helps to ensure that timelines are upheld. This is particularly important for complex supply chains like Airbus, and by building durable relationships with the partners involved TNM is able to ensure successful and delay-free voyages.

If you’d like to learn more about our weather routing and performance monitoring services you can contact us here. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges for shipowners and operators alike. TNM is here to help, and our team of experienced operators can assist you in navigating port restrictions and delays. Send us an email or call to receive a quote!