Three aerospace clusters take hold
Germany’s Broetje is the latest company to announce it will have an operation at the
Aeroplex, adding yet another link to the several aviation clusters that now call Mobile
home...

Martha Simmons
February 2016

MOBILE, Ala. -- When one of the world’s major aircraft manufacturers chose the
Mobile Aeroplex as the site for its first jetliner assembly plant in North America,
expectations soared.

Economic developers, including Mobile Airport Authority Executive Director Roger
Wehner, found themselves having to temper those expectations.

“Early on,” Wehner said, “even when the final assembly line hadn’t gone vertical yet,
people were saying, ‘Where are all the suppliers?’ We had to tell them, ‘Who would
they supply?’ It’s been a big educational learning curve for people.”

Wehner and others continue to appeal for patience and understanding of how the
aerospace industry grows and evolves around such a huge industry anchor as the
$600 million Airbus final assembly line. It all takes a good deal of time.

“It’ll happen exactly how it’s supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen,” he
said.

Although the process may be slow, the evolution has so far resulted in three distinct
clusters of aerospace industry businesses locating at the Aeroplex, Wehner said:

• Engineering
• Final Assembly Line
• Interiors

First among the aerospace industries to gravitate to the incubator at Brookley Field,
a former Air Force Base and site of impressive military aircraft construction and
maintenance in bygone years, were the engineering and construction firms tasked
with building the new Airbus facility and keeping the final assembly line moving.

“Some construction firms have left (following the building of the plant) and some have
created a permanent location here at Brookley,” Wehner said. “They were smart
enough to say this is where it’s happening and I want to be there to get future
opportunities to compete.”

Wehner said the engineering firms that have located in Mobile are predominantly
European and work closely with Airbus engineers. (See engineering firms story in the
August 2015 newsletter, pages 3-4)

“Our strategy was to make this as attractive as possible to them to plant their flag
here, get them wedded to the community, and to encourage early adoption. We
created a space specifically for this purpose to incentivize these early adopters and
make it as easy as possible for them to be here.”

The second aerospace cluster comprises final assembly line (FAL) service and
support. Germany’s Broetje just announced it’s coming to Mobile.

“Airbus seems to want its employees focusing on the pure assembly process,”
Wehner said, “and currently they rely on a mixed bag of highly qualified suppliers to
prepare the sub-assemblies and components.”

FAL contractors do things like installing engines, inflating tires, maintaining small
tools, preparing and installing batteries, and painting the finished aircraft.

The third cluster puts the finishing touches on the interior of the plane, Wehner said.
Seats, entertainment systems, galleys and other original equipment specifications all
vary according to which airline is purchasing the airframe.

Wehner points out that while a lot of attention is focused on the economic
development plum that is Airbus, Mobile’s aerospace industry was fruitful long before.

MAA’s website notes that the Brookley Aeroplex is home to several MRO operations
and FAA Part 145 repair stations. Continental Motors, VT MAE, Star Aviation and
their partner company Aerostar all call the Aeroplex home, employing about 2,000
people.

The complex is now home to many of the world’s leading aerospace suppliers and
growing daily, with economic developers seeking to marry the new Airbus suppliers to
existing businesses and strengthen the overall aerospace sector.

But as heady as all this new industry is to local government officials and prospective
employees, Wehner urges patience, flexibility and responsiveness in order to take
advantage of new opportunities around the next corner.

“It’ll keep evolving,” Wehner said.

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