Toulouse 2016

Toulouse 2016

In 2016 I visited Airbus in Toulouse. Because of cancelled interviews and a pilot strike in France the trip was quite different from what we had planned originally — but it turned out very nice in the end.

Sunday, June 12: I had planned to fly to Toulouse on Monday, June 13, very early in the morning. But because the strike, the flight was cancelled. Instead of trying to find another way to Toulouse in the morning, I decided to change my flight to Sunday afternoon (like the rest of 2016 up to that point, the weather wasn’t good for gliding, so I had time). I flew to Paris CDG from Stuttgart at 15:05 on a Cityjet Avro RJ85 (“Jumbolino”). I landed at CDG at 16:25. My connection was from Paris Orly, so I had to take the transfer bus CDG -> OLY. That was an adventure in itself, because we left 25 minutes late (because of malfunctioning ticketing machine), we had to stop three times and shut off the bus to “reboot” the failed semi-automatic gearshift that refused to shift beyond the second gear, and because the driver forgot to turn on air-conditioning during the first half of the trip. Anyway, I arrived at OLY eventually and managed to catch the plan to Toulouse (an HOP A321). I arrived at 22:00 and took a taxi to my hotel, where I slept very well.
On Monday morning 10:30, an Airbus driver picked me up at the hotel and drove me to Airbus Central Entity (= Headquarters). There I met Heidi Carpenter, my guide from the media department, and Alan Pardoe, the head of marketing and communication in Toulouse, who gave me a nice historic overview over Airbus’ development over the years. After that, Heidi, Alan and myself went “Le Club”, Airbus’ VIP restaurant for a very nice lunch.
Then on to the first interview. We went to the flight test facilities where I met Peter Chandler, former chief test pilot (and buddy of Nick Anderson, who put us in touch). We went into A350 MSN2 (the one with the beautiful carbon look) to talk about flight testing at Airbus. We also went into MSN1 to look at the flight test instrumentation installed in this aircraft. We had to finish early because, since a strike is not enough, the Spanish king was also in town, and various roads were closed. So it would take Heidi forever to get back to her office, where she had another appointment. The driver then drove me to Colomiers, where I had booked an Airbnb for the night. I edited the interview with Peter right then and there, so we can publish it soon, and then I watched the Apple keynote, ending up very dissapointed that they didn’t introduce a new Macbook Pro — mine is at the end of its useful life.
Tuesday: Next morning, Sebastian the driver picked me up again and brought me to the Aeroscopia museum where I met with David Bauser. He is the former program manager of the A300 and also worked on the Concorde. We recorded 50 minutes of “good old times” conversation with lots of anecdotes, while walking around in a Concorde and an A300 in the museum.

Once done, Sebastian drove me and Heidi into town for a quick lunch, before we were picked up again. We went to the test flight center again, where I met Pascal Verneau, an experimental test flight engineer. We talked about his role in test flying, which turns out to be a very nice addition to the conversation with Peter. The photos I took there will be published with the episode :-)

I then got a chance to visit the final assembly lines for the A350 and the A380. We were guided through the facilities by Birgit (I don’t know her last name), who told us a lot of interesting details about the production of the two aircraft. I was not able to record this, because she works for a subcontractor and cannot officially “speak” for Airbus.

A350 Final Assembly Line

A380 Final Assembly Line

At this point we were scheduled to talk to Alain de Zottie, the chief engineer for the A350. This didn’t work out, because he had to cancel the appointment. While of course unfortunate, this gave us the time to visit the assembly lines and talk to Pascal. We will do this interview later in the year via phone.
After we had finished the assembly line visits, Sebastian, our tireless driver, brought me back to the airport (just around a few corners) so I could catch my flight home. I was anxious for the three days whether the strike would also eat this flight, but it didn’t. As I write this, I am sitting in an Air France A321 from TLS to CDG, where I hope to catch my connection flight back to Stuttgart.
Summary and Thank yous: Despite the strike and the cancelled interview (which we will do later), this was a very interesting trip. I want to thank Heidi Carpenter for accompanying me for the two days, and for organizing, and planning and replanning, and replanning the replanned plan :-) I also want to thank all the listeners who, through their donations, make trips like this one possible. THANK YOU!

From this trip I have published two episodes: the first one is on flight testing, it contains the interviews with Peter and Pascal. The second is on Airbus’ history, and it will contain the conversations with Alan and David. And eventually, we’ll publish the interview Alain de Zottie as well, after we have recorded that one via the phone (if this will ever happen :-)).