Airbus Breaks Ground in U.S. as Boeing Expands

 - April 15, 2013, 2:30 PM
Top Airbus and EADS executives, state and local politicians, aerospace executives and others took part in the April 9 ground-breaking for Airbus’s new assembly facility in Mobile, Ala. (Photo: Airbus)

The global rivalry between Airbus and Boeing is now firmly rooted on American soil. On April 9, Airbus broke ground on a new A320-series assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., its first U.S.-based production facility. Boeing announced a second-phase expansion of its 787 production facility two states away in South Carolina the next day.

Mobile’s mayor recalled another planned Airbus plant that did not come to Alabama during the ground-breaking event at Brookley Aeroplex, five miles from the city’s downtown. Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent company EADS planned to assemble the KC-45 next-generation aerial refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force in Mobile after winning the contract in 2008. But Boeing successfully protested the contract award and ultimately prevailed with its Seattle-built 767 derivative in 2011 after the Air Force rebid the contract. “The night that we were not successful after the challenge to the competition on the tanker, I was interviewed about that,” said Mayor Samuel Jones. “I said that we’re not discouraged, we are disappointed. But I can tell you this: we will build aircraft at Brookley in Mobile, Alabama, and that is what we are doing today.”

Top executives of Airbus and EADS attended the ground-breaking ceremony. The planned opening of the U.S. assembly line in 2015 “represents the real transformation of Airbus into a truly global company. While Airbus has deep European roots, we have always seen ourselves as citizens of the world,” said Fabrice Brégier, Airbus president and CEO. He noted that Mobile will join three other A320 assembly facilities in Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China. “Thanks to Mobile, the sun will never set on Airbus,” he added.

Airbus announced its decision to build the $600 million assembly plant in Mobile last July. Major construction will begin this summer. The plant will support assembly of the A319, A320 and A321 beginning in 2015. At the ground-breaking ceremony, JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger said JetBlue plans to take delivery of the first Mobile-assembled aircraft in 2016. Once it reaches full production, the assembly line and associated facilities will employ up to 1,000 workers and produce up to four aircraft a month, Airbus said. The company said it also holds an option for potential expansion on an adjacent 116-acre plot.

Boeing rolled out the first 787 Dreamliner assembled at its new plant in North Charleston, S.C., last April. Less than a year later, with the 787 grounded over issues with its lithium-ion batteries, the company said it is investing $1 billion on a second-phase expansion that is expected to create 2,000 new jobs over eight years. The state is providing $120 million in incentives, the Associated Press reported. “Boeing is doing well in South Carolina, and South Carolina is doing well because of Boeing,” said Rep. Bobby Harrell (R), speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives. “Boeing’s commitment to our state and to our workforce has done nothing but exceed expectations and grow stronger since breaking ground in 2009.”