There was a noteworthy development for the commercial aerospace sector earlier this week, as Airbus officially opened it’s first-ever U.S. manufacturing facility. The other twist to this story was that the new facility was original conceived to produce air tanker aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, but has been re-purposed for commercial aircraft manufacturing.  Airbus Mobile Alabama Manufacturing Facility

The $600 million plant, located in Mobile Alabama is destined to produce various Airbus single-aisle aircraft for the U.S. market, which the European OEM describes as the largest regional market for single-aisle aircraft. The plant was original announced in 2012, when the state of Alabama offered Airbus a package of what was reported to be $100 million in incentives. At the time, Boeing was not pleased with the announcement, one that an arch-rival was establishing manufacturing presence on its home turf. In 2012, Airbus acknowledged that up to 40 percent of the value-chain of Airbus planes was already sourced from U.S. based suppliers. At the plant opening ceremony held this week, Airbus indicated that its supplier spend across the United States equates to a range of $16-$17 billion.

Planned production for the new facility includes the A319, A321, and A320 models, as well as the new A320 Neo model. According to the announcement, the first production model, an A321 is scheduled for delivery in the spring of 2016.

Plans for this U.S. facility call for of a production rate of 40-50 single-aisle aircraft annually, and while that volume level equates to nearly all of Airbus’s planned monthly production levels from all of its production facilities, it does represent a significant anchor for a U.S. manufacturing presence. The other Airbus commercial aircraft final assembly facilities are located in Hamburg Germany, Tianjin China and Toulouse France.

In 2011, Airbus had partnered with another military contractor to bid on a U.S. Air Force contract for a fleet of new air tankers.  That contract was eventually awarded to Boeing. To the credit of Airbus senior management, instead of abandoning plans for Mobile site, plans were re-cast to provide this new presence for commercial aircraft manufacturing. This was despite what one Airbus executive described as input that it was too risky to consider commercial manufacturing in the U.S. while others thought that the European based producer was overstepping its bounds.

As Supply Chain Matters noted in our 2012 commentary, the U.S. Southeast region has since become a rather important supply chain manufacturing and logistical hub for automotive and other manufacturing industry. The Ports of Charleston and Savannah, along with Huntsville International Airport remain important logistical hubs serving this vibrant manufacturing region.  Boeing’s second final assembly production facility is located in this same region, in North Charleston South Carolina.

Supply Chain Matters extends its congratulations to Airbus and the entire Mobile Aeroplex manufacturing team for this week’s important milestone. Best wishes for continued achievements in U.S. based manufacturing.

Bob Ferrari