Viewpoint

Airbus lands on Boeing’s patch

Today Airbus opened its first US production facility in a move that should give the airframer more clout in Washington and a better reception from the nation’s airlines.

Africa aside, North America is the only continent where the 737MAX outsells the A320neo, the latter aircraft enjoying a huge advantage in all other regions.

Airbus’ $600m Mobile, Alabama facility will initially assemble four A321ceos per month, then transition to A320neo-family production as it ramps up to a maximum off 50 narrowbodies per month in 2018, when it will employ around 1,000 people.

While the manufacturer hopes that a “Made in America” tag will swing some airline purchasing departments, it’s also targeting other benefits.

Alabama, for instance, has some of the lowest labour rates in the US, and operating in a dollar economy should strengthen Airbus’ foreign exchange profile.

Extraordinarily, Airbus will also be able to secure financial guarantees from the US’ Ex-Im bank for any aircraft built in Mobile for export.

Ex-Im’s fierce critics – an unlikely collection of libertarians, tea-party activities and left-wingers like Bernie Sanders – will no doubt highlight this fact to bolster their argument.

Among them, though, will not be Alabama‘s Republican senator, Jeff Sessions, whose website describes him as a “tough fiscal conservative” who works hard “to limit spending [and] keep taxes low”.

Nonetheless, in July Sessions voted with a bill to extend the life of Ex-Im by another three years. His home state is reported to have offered Airbus $150m of incentives to locate production there.

Thus Airbus has secured friends in high places, as one would expect any multinational to do.

It should be noted, though, that Boeing also has a strong presence in Alabama, where it employs 2,600 people and in June opened a research and technology centre.

After years of sparring across the Atlantic, competition between the two great manufacturers has taken a much keener edge.

Airbus is making history with its decision to create an A320 Family jetliner final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama – officially called the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility – which will become company’s first production site in America.

This game-changing plan was announced in July 2012 by the Airbus senior management team during a special event held in Mobile, with the presence of Alabama officials, airline customers, industry suppliers, Airbus employees and local guests.

A ceremony in April 2013 marked the beginning of construction for the $600-million facility, with aircraft assembly scheduled to begin in 2015 and the first delivery targeted for 2016.

Reaching a key milestone in late May 2015, large aircraft components for the first A320 Family jetliner to be produced at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility departed Hamburg, Germany for their transatlantic voyage by cargo ship.

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