Airbus Defence & Space has just celebrated the first ten years of its San Pablo Sur factory in Seville with a festive open day for employees and their families. Through various recreational and informative activities, such as augmented reality games, access to the interior of aircraft, and a spectacular air show, it has managed to showcase the exciting work that lies behind the engineering and manufacture of aircraft. This is an industrial sector that directly and indirectly creates a significant number of highly skilled jobs, which has major benefits for the regional and national community.
Airbus DS has three factories in Seville, a present-day reflection of an aeronautical manufacturing tradition that dates back to the very origin of aviation.
Seville, along with a dozen other cities around the world, forms part of a select group of facilities that have the means to design, assemble and test a complete aircraft. These facilities have been here since practically the origin of aviation thanks to historical companies like Hispano Aviación and CASA. Current companies, such as Alestis and Airbus Defence & Space, have inherited their experience and knowledge.
Airbus has a total of three plants around the city of Seville: Tablada and San Pablo, which is divided into North and South. To learn about the origin and history of these factories we must go back more than a century, to the neighbourhood of Tablada, the birthplace of aeronautics in Seville.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the city had barely 150,000 inhabitants, less than a fifth of its current population. Tablada was nothing more than an enormous pastureland situated on the other side of the river that separates the Triana district from the rest of the city. It was municipal property and was used for grazing cattle and fighting bulls. The land was flat, with very few obstacles, as the only construction was a racetrack that the Horse Racing Society had built in 1880. These were the features that made the land an excellent natural airfield for the incipient aeronautical industry. In 1910, just six years after the Wright brothers invented the airplane, that modest piece of land hosted a week dedicated to aviation, with exhibitions of speed, take-offs, manoeuvres, etc.
In 1914, the city council ceded part of these lands (about 24 hectares) to the state, for the construction of a military aerodrome, which was the seed for the future Tablada air base. By 1921, these facilities were the site of the first commercial flight carried out by a company with Spanish capital (the newly created CETA), flying between Seville and Larache, a town in northern Morocco. In 1923, the city council built the first civilian facilities at one end of the military airfield.
That same year, José Ortiz Echagüe founded Construcciones Aeronáuticas S.A. (CASA) in Getafe (Madrid). The company grew along with the strength of the sector, and in 1942 it finally established its first plant in Seville. And it did so, of course, in the vicinity of the already consolidated Tablada airport. This factory has thus recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. It has manufactured models such as the C-2111 and the C-101, as well as components and structures for a wide variety of other programmes.
When the 1940s arrived, the city was demanding new land to accommodate its growth, while the Tablada airport was becoming obsolete. Therefore, in 1945, they decided to build San Pablo Airport, on land to the north of the city, close to where the old dirigible terminal was located.
CASA built a couple of hangars nearby around 1960, and eventually occupied the premises of the Hispano Aviación company, which went defunct in 1972. This resulted in its second factory, now known as San Pablo Norte. They would use it to manufacture and assemble new models, such as the CN-235 and C-295.
Towards the end of the 1990s, the A400M military aircraft programme was established among several European countries. Its purpose was to become the military air transport of the future, replacing the aircraft being used by the main European armies: the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Transall C-160. Towards the end of that decade, the Spanish company CASA, the French Aerospatiale Matra and the German Dasa joined forces to form EADS, taking charge of the development of the A400M programme.
They had to choose where to locate the Final Assembly Line (FAL), and the candidates were some of the headquarters that were already in existence. A promotional campaign was carried out from Seville using the slogan “the right choice”. It asserted Seville’s long-term experience in military aviation, which was lacking in Toulouse and Hamburg, the other two candidates. Moreover, these countries were already immersed in the development of Airbus’s new civilian programme, the A380. Therefore, in the end it was the Andalusian city that was chosen.
With a view to the development of the new programme, in 2009 innovative and spacious facilities were opened south of Seville airport, and were named San Pablo Sur.
In 2013, EADS adopted the name Airbus Group, and one of its divisions (military and space) was renamed Airbus Defence & Space.
That has been an account of its history – but what will the future hold?
Over time, the three factories have continually reinvented themselves to adapt to changes in the programmes they are developing.
Tablada, after recent investments, remains at the forefront of manufacturing, becoming established as a Pre-FAL plant and delivering equipped components to other FALs, including both the San Pablo factory as well as others outside Seville (the Airbus Group factory in Getafe [home of the Eurofigther and MRTT programmes] and even factories belonging to the competitor Boeing).
The factory in San Pablo Norte moved the production of the old CASA models (CN-235 and C295) to San Pablo Sur, and it has been repurposed as a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) service centre.
San Pablo Sur has delivered approximately half of the initial 180 A400M orders, and will continue to carry out this activity for at least another ten years. However, it is already looking for and developing new projects, such as retrofitting previously delivered aircraft.
Expertise and specialisation have been basic pillars throughout the history of these three factories. However, another aspect that has recently been instrumental in adapting these factories to the constant evolution and adoption of new programmes is the emergence of the concept of industry 4.0 or factory of the future. This significantly improves and rationalises the production processes, allowing them to remain competitive.