It is the evening of a hot summer day in the Gironde Department, France. And in Langon, a small town 50 kilometres to the south-east of Bordeaux, the heat has been oppressive all day long, too. This is the starting-point from where the components of the Airbus Industries A380 long-distance plane are transported to the assembly plant. Peering through the bars of the gate, one’s gaze immediately falls on the six “Transports Capelle” trucks standing next to a large hangar at the other end of the Airbus compound.
Tonight the Arocs SLT and Actros SLT heavy-haulage vehicles are to take the plane's components, which have been shipped to this city's river port from the different Airbus construction plants all across Europe, to the Airbus final assembly plant in Toulouse.
The four 15.6-litre six-cylinder in-line engines of the Arocs tractors and the two V8 engines of the Actros 8×4/4 vehicles of Transports Capelle start up with a powerful sound. Yellow and blue rotary beacons light up the heavy-duty trucks and the escort vehicles. Now all is finally ready and the great gates open.
The first vehicles to leave the compound are those of the Gendarmerie and transport manager Daniel Molière, followed by the first of the six tractor units carrying the Airbus parts. On an Actros SLT 8×4/4: the left-hand-side wing of the Airbus A380. The combination is 54 metres long, 6.70 metres wide and has a height of 12.50 metres.
The right-hand-side wing follows: it has the same dimensions and weight. This is the supreme discipline for the drivers.
After the drawbar low-loader semitrailers carrying the wings, the fifth-wheel low loaders with the fuselage sections and horizontal tails arrive at minute-intervals in Eauze for a break. These tractor-trailer combinations also tip the scales at well over 100 tonnes – with a length of 32 metres, a width of eight metres and up to 12.5 metres in height. Nicolas Fournier drives one of them. This is his 70th transport operation. This time he is carrying the central fuselage element, the widest aircraft section of the entire transport operation.
The first stage of the journey is now finished. The vehicles are standing on the premises of the Airbus base in Ordan-Larroque. The site security personnel close the gates. Drivers and escort personnel make their way to their lodgings for the night.
Daniel writes his report on the progress of the transport operation thus far. He is quite satisfied. So far there have been no problems at all. See the last stage of the journey in the video on RoadStars.