Airbus opens first US assembly plant, in jab at Boeing market


France-based Airbus on Monday opened its first US aircraft assembly plant as part of an aggressive strategy to attract customers from US rival Boeing and solidify its international market share.

At the plant’s opening in Mobile, Alabama, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier slapped a “Made in the USA” sticker on an aircraft part earmarked for the first jet to be delivered in early 2016.

“Our commercial aircraft production in Mobile signifies two things: that Airbus has become the first truly global aircraft manufacturer, and that Airbus is now also a truly American manufacturer,” he said.

“With the addition of our US facility to our production network in Europe and Asia, we have strategically expanded our worldwide industrial base.”

The 470,000-square-metre assembly plant will produce aircraft in the popular A320 family, joining three existing finishing facilities for the short- to medium-range twin-engine passenger jets in Germany, France and China. By 2018, annual output in Mobile is to reach 40 to 50 planes.

In development since 2012, the 600-million-dollar plant is slated to eventually reach a payroll of 1,000 in the Mobile area.

The US assembly of parts mostly shipped from Germany is estimated to constitute about 5 per cent of the finished value of the aircraft. Airbus says each job in Alabama will support four jobs in Europe.

With strong bookings of new orders in recent years, Airbus has seen its US market share surge from 20 to 40 per cent since 2012. Company executives hope the stateside production can further boost their US market share to 50 per cent – while cutting costs.

The US is the world’s largest market for single-aisle airliners. Airbus projects North American total demand in that market segment at 4,700 aircraft over the next 20 years.

“The plant will allow us to be closer to the US customers and important suppliers,” Bregier said.

Chicago-based Boeing has been losing out on orders at major air shows in recent years.

At Le Bourget air show in June in Paris, Airbus pocketed 57 billion dollars in orders at list prices, compared to Boeing’s tally of 50.2 billion dollars.