|Airbus plant officially opens
September 14, 2015
MOBILE, Ala. – Hundreds of dignitaries, including corporate officials, politicians and three
ambassadors, were on hand Monday for the formal opening of the $600 million Airbus
A320 assembly plant at the Mobile Aeroplex.
The 210,000-square-foot plant on 117 acres is the aircraft maker's fourth A320 assembly
plant. Significantly, it’s the first Airbus plant in the United States and a direct challenge to
Boeing’s dominance in North America, where Airbus currently has 15 customers and
operators who have 1,301 aircraft.
With partially built A321 jetliners flanking the assembled dignitaries and media
representatives from around world, the crowd applauded and stood when a sign was
placed on a plane sections by the company CEO and a plant worker. The sign said “This
aircraft proudly made in the USA by the worldwide team from Airbus.”
So far, there are some 260 workers at the plant, but it will gear up to 1,000 as production
increases with the goal of producing four to five A320 aircraft per month. All the
employees, decked out in blue Airbus shirts, stood on the stage behind the speakers at
Monday’s inaugural. They are primarily from Alabama, and 30 percent are former military.
The event in Hangar 9, the name Airbus uses the final assembly lines in Hamburg, Tianjin,
China and now Mobile, closed with the song “Sweet Home Alabama” playing in the
background. The first jetliner being built at the plant is an A321 for JetBlue, which will take
delivery in 2016.
The historic opening was preceded by community events Saturday, which included a fun
run. On Sunday, more than 100 members of the media from all over the world gathered to
get a first glimpse of the world’s newest aircraft plant. They were separated into groups
lead by Airbus managers who gave an overview of the assembly process from first receipt
of aircraft components to final delivery. Groups were separated by preferred language.
At a press briefing after the tour Sunday, Fabrice Bregier, president and CEO of Airbus,
called it a “historic occasion.”
Barry Eccleson, president of Airbus Americas, pointed out that 6,700 A320 family aircraft
have been delivered and there’s a backlog of 5,439 aircraft. The single-aisle jet is so
prevalent, an A320 takes off or lands every two seconds somewhere in the world, he said.
The newest versions of the aircraft have engines that burn 15 percent less fuel, have 15
percent less CO2 emissions and have 15 percent range improvement. The Mobile plant
will start with assembly the A320 planes with the current engine option, but will transition
to the new engine option beginning in 2017.
A320 family is most successful commercial airplane program in the world, Airbus officials
said, the backbone of the world’s airline fleet. The line was launched in the 1980s. When
comparing all variants of A320 with Boeing’s 737, Airbus has 19 percent more orders, 17
percent more deliveries and 34 percent more customers.
The company chose to put a plant in North America because it’s one of the most vibrant
aerospace regions in the world. Even though it’s a mature market, between 2014 and
2034 there will be an average per year growth of 2.4 percent.
All of the first jetliners to come off the assembly line in Mobile will be A321, which is the
preferred model in the U.S. market. The first jetliner will be an A321 for JetBlue. It will be
delivered in 2016.
Allan McArtor, Airbus Group chairman and CEO, said Mobile is the company’s industrial
home in the U.S., and it has an option to double in size should the need arise. He said as
that as the company grows it is not likely to look to another state. In Mobile it has enough
space to expand, although there are “no direct plans right now for that.”
Officials said the Gulf Coast is an aerospace hub that will generate jobs for years to come.
-- Story by David Tortorano, GCAC, 9/14/15
-- Photo by Michelle R. Thomas, GCAC, 9/14/15