Airbus has had an engineering facility in Mobile for some time, and would have built an A330-200 freighter/tanker facility there if it had won the US Air Force aerial tanker refleeting contract. When the Air Force eventually chose Boeing to supply its new tankers, talk of any kind of US-based Airbus manufacturing facility faded. But it was no secret that:
a) Airbus was keen to eventually establish a manufacturing presence in the US, and
b) Mobile was keen to get a major international manufacturer, and the jobs it would bring.
So today’s announcement is not really big surprise. Construction of the Alabama assembly line will begin next summer, with production to commence in 2015. Airbus said it anticipates the facility will produce between 40 and 50 aircraft per year by 2018.
Regarding the reason for the decision, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier said: “The US is the largest single-aisle aircraft market in the world –- with a projected need for 4,600aircraft over the next 20 years — and this assembly line brings us closer to our customers.”
There are no doubt cost advantages as well. Airplanes are sold in US dollars, but Airbus’ manufacturing costs have, until recently, been in euros. Having an assembly plant in the US will certainly bring Airbus closer to some major customers — just as the establishment of an assembly facility in Tianjin brought it closer to Chinese customers. But, as is the case with the Tianjin operation, it will help to have costs denominated in something other than euros.