European planemaker Airbus has started production on its A220 aircraft in the United States.
Airbus has invested $300 million in its new assembly facility in the port of Mobile, Alabama next to an existing assembly line for its best-selling A320 passenger jet.
The European aerospace giant partnered with Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace to develop the A220. Prior to the partnership, the A220 was known as Bombardier C Series.
The Airbus A220 is a narrow-body fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft designed to be a medium-range jetliner capable of carrying between 100 and 150 passengers.
The A220 to be built in Alabama
The first new U.S.-built A220 will not roll off the assembly line until late 2020. It is nevertheless a huge milestone in Airbus’s bid to promote its Alabama facilities and its American made planes.
According to CNBC, when speaking about Airbus’s production facilities in the southern United States, CEO of Airbus of America Jeff Knittel said:
“The airplane has a substantial backlog, whether it be the 220 and the 320 series where we have over a six-year backlog. Some of that from the U.S. airlines is a function of being in Alabama, but some of it is just having the right product at the right time.”
The demand Airbus is seeing for the A220 is exactly what they envisioned when they bought a 50.1% in the Bombardier C Series plane in 2017.
At the time of the Airbus purchase, Canada’s Bombardier was struggling to attract buyers. At one point it even had Boeing accusing the Canadian plane maker of low-balling the jets price to secure a deal with Delta Airlines.
Boeing took Bombardier to court over its claims, and when it ultimately lost the case, Airbus was already committed to building the plane in Alabama.
America is a big market for the A220
When speaking about Airbus’s decision to build the plant in Mobile, Airbus Americas CEO Jeff Knittel is quoted by Reuters as saying,
“The United States is one of the largest markets for us and this is our largest industrial base in the U.S. We have the skills and employees and it is the logical thing to do.”
The deal was sweet for Bombardier as it gave them the financial backing they needed. It also served Airbus well by allowing them to counter Boeing’s courtship with Brazil’s Embraer.
Since announcing plans to build the A220 in the United States Airbus now has firm orders for more than 500 A220s, thanks largely to its decision to build them in Alabama.
The A220 will employ 400 new workers at the new Mobil facility, joining the 700 employees already working on the A320.
While new decent-paying jobs are always welcome, America’s unemployment rate is near a 50-year low and is something not lost on the Airbus CEO.
“The labor market is tight, so what we have done is expanded, our recruiting efforts across the U.S.,” said Knittel. “The good news is, in the Alabama area, the Florida area, reaching over even into Texas, there is a substantial number of high-quality employees available.”
Airbus could not build more planes now even if it wanted to
While the A220 looks like a resounding success story for Airbus, the commercial aviation world is fixated by the Boeing 737 MAX.
Following two fatal accidents that killed 346 people, Boeings long-haul 737 has been grounded since March, with nobody knowing when it will be allowed to fly again. The grounding has had some people speculating that Airbus can capitalize on the situation, but Kittel says it is not that simple.
“The MAX situation really doesn’t change what we’re doing today. The order book is full, the demand for airplanes is substantial … This is not something that we can flip the switch and start producing more airplanes.”
Airbus should promote the fact they are building aircraft in the United States with American workers. Most Americans think they only build European made planes and that American based airlines should buy only Boeing.
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