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John Mohr, Auburn University
The Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility is a civil aircraft manufacturing plant located in Mobile, Mobile County. It is a subsidiary of the multinational Airbus Group SE, which specializes in commercial jetliners and military aircraft. The Mobile facility manufactures jet airliners, primarily for the U.S. market, from a combination of foreign and locally sourced parts. The facility began production of jet aircraft in July 2015, with an official grand opening ceremony in September of that year. It principally produces the A320, A319, and A321 jetliners. The first plane produced at the facility took off on March 21, 2016.
First Plane by Airbus Alabama
Airbus Group SE, headquartered in Leiden, The Netherlands, chose to build a U.S. manufacturing facility as part of a long-term strategy of diversification and moving production close to its markets; U.S.-based airlines are among the world's largest buyers of single-aisle jet airliners. Several factors influenced Airbus's decision to locate in Mobile, including the availability of pre-existing facilities and a package of government incentives. In addition, Airbus had an engineering branch office in Mobile located near the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, a former military facility that later became part of the manufacturing center, and Mobile's deep-water port provides a convenient way to transport aircraft parts. Alabama also had an existing base of aerospace suppliers and engineering talent located around Huntsville, home to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Marshall Space Flight Center and other military facilities. Alabama's status as a right-to-work state that is generally considered unfriendly to unions acted as another strong incentive for the company. Aerospace workers at other Airbus facilities in France and Germany are unionized and have high wages. Airbus executives recognized that a lower-wage plant in the United States would offer Airbus significant leverage over both its own workforce and its competitors. Alabama had also been under consideration when the aircraft company Boeing pursued a similar strategy a few years before, ultimately choosing to build its facility in South Carolina.
Airbus Alabama Production Hangar
A team led by Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield developed an incentives package worth $158 million to encourage Airbus to locate its new facility in Mobile. This included $82 million in cash to be used for constructing new buildings, to be financed by a state and local bond issue. The incentives also included nearly $52 million for the creation of an Alabama Industrial Development and Training (AIDT) facility to recruit and train workers for jobs at the plant. The rest of the incentive money was divided up between site preparation, lease assistance, and various other expenses. In order to protect the investment of taxpayer money, several "clawback" provisions were included in the agreement with Airbus. To receive the full amount of incentives, the company had to agree to maintain a minimum employment level of 600 for three of the first six years of the facility's operation. Otherwise, the company would have to pay back a portion of the incentives money.
State officials justified the incentives by pointing to an official economic impact study sponsored by the Department of Commerce. The study asserted that the facility would provide a total of $409 million annually in general economic impact, including nearly $62 million in payroll when it reached full employment. The report also claimed that the facility would generate substantial tax revenue for the state and for the city of Mobile. Critics argued that these estimates were too optimistic. They pointed out that economists have frequently critiqued such studies as misleading and called for the incentive money to be spent on education or other services. Despite this criticism, the incentives deal was approved by state and local officials. Airbus agreed to invest $600 million of its own capital to build the facility. The selection of Mobile was announced in July 2012, and construction began in mid-2013.
Auburn University Aerospace Students
The Airbus facility sits on a total of 53 acres next to Mobile Bay. It is expected to employ close to 1,000 people and build 40 to 50 planes per year as production is gradually ramped up to full capacity in 2018. Workers assemble complete aircraft from both domestically and internationally sourced parts. The Airbus factory in Hamburg, Germany, produces tail and wing sections, which are joined to completed bodies in Mobile. These standard airframe shells are then finished to customer order, including a diverse number of engine and seat configuration options. Given the complex and technologically advanced nature of modern airliners, quality testing is an integral part of the manufacturing process.
Airbus and the University of South Alabama (USA), located near Mobile, have developed an education and research partnership to benefit students and the company through hiring USA students and graduates as interns and employees. In late 2014, Airbus donated an aircraft tail elevator to the university to facilitate research in composite materials for engineering students. In addition, Airbus sponsors a scholarship for students in the College of Engineering, and students and faculty have worked closely with the company on numerous projects. In 2015, a team of USA students won the Airbus Innovation Showdown, an aircraft design competition.
Published:  January 15, 2016   |   Last updated:  September 19, 2017