Airbus this week reaffirmed its commitment to the U.S. aviation market with the inauguration of its new $ 600 million Final Assembly Line (FAL) manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama.
The assembly plant is Airbus’ first in the United States. Originally announced in 2012, Airbus said it would directly employ approximately 1,000 people, adding more than $ 400 million annually to Alabama’s economy.. The plant will receive sections of the company’s A320 Family shipped from Europe, with those sections assembled at four different stations in the plant’s flow line, then painted, tested and ultimately released to customers.
“Our production of commercial aircraft at Mobile means two things: that Airbus has become the first truly global aircraft manufacturer, and that Airbus is now also a truly American manufacturer,” said Fabrice Brégier, President and CEO of ‘Airbus.
“With the addition of our US plant to our production network in Europe and Asia, we have strategically expanded our global industrial base. “
The A320 Family (which includes the A318, A319, A320 and A321) is the world’s best-selling single-aisle aircraft, with 6,700 deliveries to date and an order book of nearly 5,500. According to Barry Eccleston, president of ‘Airbus Americas, somewhere in the world, an A320 takes off or lands every two seconds.
Launched in 1988, the aircraft can accommodate up to 220 passengers and is widely used for intercity flights in the United States. Over the next 20 years, Airbus expects demand in the US single-aisle market to increase dramatically and sees the mobile facility as the key to competition in this market. For the foreseeable future, FAL will deliver aircraft exclusively to US customers, including American, Delta, United, Jet Blue and Spirit.
The move also serves as a shot at rival Boeing, which until now was the only major manufacturer of commercial aircraft in the United States. While Airbus executives at Mobile this week were keen to play down the rivalry with Boeing, this is undoubtedly a statement of intent from the Toulouse-based company.
Mobile was at the center of a previous skirmish between the two air transport giants. In 2008, Airbus Group (then called EADS) won a multi-billion dollar contract to build the next generation of refuelers for the US Air Force, with Mobile to house the manufacturing plant. However, following a protest by Boeing to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the tendering process was reopened, with Boeing subsequently winning the deal.
Despite this setback, Airbus continued to establish itself in Mobile. It operates an engineering center which opened there in 2007 and employs more than 200 engineers. Along with the FAL facility that opened this week, Airbus has an additional 116-acre adjacent site that it can expand into over the coming years if it so chooses. The first aircraft will roll out of the plant in spring 2016, and by 2018, the plant will produce between 40 and 50 single aisles per year.