Exceeding expectations
It was 10 years ago that Airbus put and engineering center in Mobile, and now the
growing Airbus footprint here seems ‘brilliant’ given Trump’s call to create jobs in
America...

David Tortorano
February 2017

MOBILE, Ala. -- When Airbus decided in 2006 to open an engineering center in
Mobile, it was a bold move for a company that was not doing that well on a number of
fronts, including a revolving door of CEOs.

But late last month, when the Airbus Engineering Center marked its 10th year, the
decision seems by any measure to have been a brilliant move. The company is on
track, the presence in Mobile is growing and it lines up nicely with the new
administration’s  desire to bring jobs to America.

“This has been probably one of the most successful endeavors I personally have
been involved with,” said Barry Eccleston, president and CEO of Airbus America and
aviation business veteran of 40-plus years. “All this has way exceeded my
expectations.”

Eccleston said others feel the same. Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group, Fabrice
Bregier, chief operating officer and president of commercial aircraft, and Charles
Champion, president of Airbus Operations and executive vice president of
engineering, “they will tell you exactly the same thing.”

Eccleston was among the speakers at the celebration Jan. 30 marking the 10th year
of the engineering center. The event honored the 220 engineers and support
personnel at the center, not only for their work but for their service in time and money
to the community. Attending were workers, state and local leaders, and guests from
the charitable and educational entities with whom Airbus Engineering has partnered
over the past decade.

Just how bold a move it was is clear given the circumstances at the time. Eccleston
said that in 2007 when the engineering center opened “life at Airbus had not been
that great.” The previous year wasn’t very good, with the company going through
three different CEOs in 12 months, the A380 coping with technical issue and the
recession on the horizon.

Today Airbus has a 10-year backlog of over 8,600 aircraft, 200 A380 jetliners have
been delivered and the A350, the first program Mobile engineers worked on, has 800
units on order. Airbus, with 3,000 workers in the United States, buys $16.5 billion in U.
S. equipment each year.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who proclaimed Jan. 30 Airbus Engineering Day, said
Airbus contributed $525,000 to various organizations, logged 2,700 flights out of the
city, delivered 17 jetliners spent $180 million in salaries.

The engineering center was established in 2007 when Airbus was competing against
Boeing for an multibillion-dollar contract to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. Airbus
won the contract in 2008, but Boeing protested. In 2011 it was awarded to Boeing to
build the planes in Washington state, but Mobile later ended up getting an A320
jetliner assembly line, which produced its first jetliner in 2016.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said that when the tanker was lost, “we
could have seen that relationship and the trust that came with it go by the wayside
also. But that’s not who we are as Alabamians, that’s not who you are as Mobilians,
and that is not who Airbus is.”

Canfield said Alabama takes the long view. “We can make great things in Alabama,
but we can design, manufacture and engineer them right here as well. As that’s what
this engineering center represents. It represents the future of Alabama’s
opportunities.”

A year before the center opened, Site Director Dave Trent, the first Airbus
Engineering Center employee, pulled together the small group to work in Wichita,
Kan., while the Mobile facility was being built. Of those first 35 engineers, some are
still among the more than 200 engineers in Mobile.

Trent praised employees as hardworking, dedicated, tenacious and diverse,
representing 25 countries. They will come in during the wee hours to participate in
conference calls with colleagues in Europe; they donate their time, money and
expertise helping local children aspire for aerospace careers and have adequate
school supplies. They have a shared vision.

The engineering center was the second Airbus operation in Mobile. In April 2004, as
part of a strategy to build its U.S. industrial base, the company said that EADS CASA
North America would establish a customer service and training facility at Mobile
Regional Airport to support Coast Guard’s HC-144 (CN235) aircraft. The 13,000
square-foot facility became operational in April 2005.

That was followed in June 2005 with the announcement that EADS North America
had chosen Mobile’s Brookley Complex, now called Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, to
build tankers if it won the Air Force contract. The decision to build the engineering
center followed.

The Air Force contract was lost, but Mobile ended up getting the A320 series
assembly line, arguably a better deal in the long term.

The three operations combined have about 650 workers. Airbus Military at Mobile
Regional became the worldwide support center for the C-212 in April 2015. The
engineering center works on all aircraft cabins and the assembly line has delivered
20 jetliners, and gearing up to build four jetliners a month by the end of this year.

Allan McArtor, chairman and CEO of Airbus Group, who said Mobile feels like home,
said Airbus chose Alabama “because it was the best environment we could find.”

He said the company prides itself on global thinking and agility, and he thinks the
company is well positioned for the future.

“We knew by us coming here and setting up shop that we would be, in essence, an
economic magnet. We’ve got over 30 suppliers now that are coming to Mobile and
setting up shop. We knew there was going to be a halo effect, our engineering center
and our manufacturing facility, it’s all happening,” he said after the celebration.

“Where’s that going to go? I have no idea but it’s going to grow this community; it’s
going to have a multiplier effect, a positive effect on real estate on schools, on
downtown development. We’re just happy it’s all come together and being able to be
a part of it,” said McArtor, who as chairman of Airbus Americas oversees the
operations, activities and strategy of all Airbus Group companies in the United
States, Canada and Latin America.

And with a new administration in Washington?

“You’ve got to admit, it looks like a pretty brilliant decision to come here. Here we’ve
invested in the United States, we’ve created high-tech, high-paying jobs in the United
States, we build helicopters here, we build airplanes here, we have engineering here,
we train pilots here in the United States, this is a very Trumpian theme, and so, in
retrospect, this is exactly what the Trump administration wants; wants to create jobs,
increase the economy and that’s just what we’re helping to do.”

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