MOBILE, Ala. — Airbus broke ground on its first U.S. airplane-assembly plant Monday with a ceremony marking the start of a project that could help transform Alabama’s coast into an aerospace center.
Top company executives and state leaders were in the Gulf Coast city for the event at the Airbus site at Brookley Aeroplex. A jetliner parked behind the stage served as a backdrop.
Mayor Sam Jones recounted how it took seven years to bring aircraft manufacturing to the Alabama coast after a series of starts and stops.
“Our future and Airbus’ future are tied together, and we’re extremely proud of that,” said Jones.
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Gov. Robert Bentley said the start of work marked a “great day for Alabama.”
The $600 million factory is expected to employ 1,000 once assembly of the Airbus A320 jet begins around 2015.
“This represents the real transformation of Airbus into a truly global company,” Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier told the crowd under a sprawling tent on the tarmac alongside a JetBlue A320, the Mobile Press-Register reported.
Adding a U.S. factory to its jet plants in Europe and Asia means that “thanks to Mobile, the sun will never set on Airbus,” Bregier said.
Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, compared Airbus’ decision to locate in Alabama to the decision by Mercedes-Benz in 1993 to build its first U.S. assembly plant west of Birmingham.
The Mercedes decision “made Alabama a global powerhouse in the automobile industry,” and Airbus could do the same for aerospace, he said.
The ceremony came as the state’s first major Airbus supplier, Safran Engineering Services, opened its new office in Mobile.
The company plans to employ about 50 people at an engineering-support facility.
Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence & Space had planned to build an Air Force refueling tanker in Alabama, but Boeing won the contract in 2011 and will build the planes in Everett.
Airbus nonetheless announced last year it would erect a jetliner assembly line near downtown Mobile.
At the groundbreaking, Airbus sales chief John Leahy said he expects substantial orders from U.S. airlines, which have the oldest fleets in the world.
Having an assembly line in the U.S. market will help win orders, said Leahy, who plans to visit several potential customers this week,
“With a final-assembly line here, that lets us become a U.S. manufacturer of aircraft with U.S. jobs,” he said.
The Mobile plant will initially assemble the A320 and later the A320neo.
Local leaders hope the Airbus plant, being built at the 1,650-acre Brookley industrial park, will make Alabama the heart of aerospace work along the northern Gulf Coast.
“Brookley is situated right in the center of the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, and the Airbus facility sets us up to be the nucleus of that corridor,” said Bill Sisson, executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority.
North Alabama already has a strong aerospace industry with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and a Delta rocket factory operated by United Launch Alliance at Decatur.
Information from Bloomberg News is included in this report.