Airbus ups competitive ante in the US

On July 2, France’s Airbus made a huge step in the battle to dominate the global aviation industry by announcing plans to build its first airplane production plant on US soil.

“There is one place in North America where Airbus will assemble airplanes and that is right here in Mobile, Alabama,”  Gov. Robert Bentley announced at a news conference yesterday.

Airbus already has established parts plants in the US, but this will be its first full plane-making facility, which could help it win more commercial and defense contracts against American rival Boeing. Construction of the plant, which begins in the summer of 2013, will cost about $600 million and is expected to create some 1,000 jobs. Once the plant is fully operational in 2018, it will produce 40 to 50 A320 aircraft a year. The A320 is widely used by Delta Air Lines and US Airways, among others.

Airbus originally looked at about 70 sites in more than 30 states before choosing Mobile. The company already employs about 200 engineers and support staff at an engineering center. Mobile, a city once devastated by Hurricane Katrina, will join Toulouse, France, Hamburg, Germany, and Tianjin, China, as Airbus’ family of airplane assembly sites. Boeing maintains commercial aircraft production sites in Everett and Renton, Washington, and in South Carolina. Boeing also has a presence in Alabama, with about 2,700 workers there in defense and rocket operations.

Some are calling Airbus’ Mobile, Alabama announcement vindication, as its European parent EADS has spent a number of years trying to get a foothold in the US in an effort to establish itself as a leading prime contractor there. Its helicopter manufacturing subsidiary, Eurocopter, is already a major Pentagon supplier with assembly operations in Columbus, Mississippi. However, in 2011 EADS and Airbus were dealt a bitter blow as they lost a 10-year battle for a $35 billion Pentagon contract to build a new fleet of Air Force aerial refueling tankers. The contract ultimately went to Boeing.

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Picture by Stuart Seeger, under a Creative Commons license.

John MacAyeal

John MacAyeal has worked at Hoover's since the era of Hawaiian shirts and Y2K angst (aka the late 90s). Now he's surprised to have survived into this time of skinny jeans and 2012 angst.

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