The parent company of European aircraft maker Airbus said today that it selected Mobile, Ala., over three other Southern sites for a potential $600 million factory to build refueling tankers.

Share story

WASHINGTON — The parent company of European aircraft maker Airbus said today that it selected Mobile, Ala., over three other Southern sites for a potential $600 million factory to build refueling tankers.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. selected the Alabama site over three rival bids from Melbourne, Fla.; Kiln, Miss.; and North Charleston, S.C.

Ralph D. Crosby, chairman and CEO of EADS North America, said Mobile was chosen because it is “strategically located” on the Gulf of Mexico, and offers a skilled workforce, airport runways and a deep-water port. Brookley Industrial Complex provides 4.5 million square feet of industrial space, and includes access to the Mobile downtown airport.

An Airbus engineering center will be built nearby and is expected to open in 2006, the company said.

The company plans to “continue our relationship” with the other bidders through a five-year university cooperative internship program conducted in Mobile, Crosby said. Each state will receive a five-year, $100,000 grant to fund the internships.

Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, Rep. Jo Bonner and Gov. Bob Riley were on hand for the announcement here.

“This victory catapults Alabama toward a new era of growth in the aerospace and defense industries,” Riley said in a statement.

EADS, which is based in France and Germany, has said it plans to offer a tanker version of its Airbus A330 passenger jet for the multibillion-dollar job of producing a new generation of aerial refueling tankers.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. lost the tanker deal last year, after revelations that it had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who later admitted giving the company preferential treatment. The Air Force has yet to resume the procurement process for tankers.

Boeing spokesman Dan Beck declined to comment specifically today’s announcement.

Asked about the overall tanker program, Beck said: “There is not a competition (right now). There is no tanker replacement program, so there is nothing for us to address at this point.”

The immensely public search gave EADS some much-needed positive spin at a time when the U.S. and the European Union are engaged in a trade battle over the EU’s subsidies to Airbus, which the U.S. claims gives it an unfair advantage over its chief rival, Boeing.

EADS hopes to get a substantial portion of an expected $9 billion in new spending for military tanker planes, but congressional leaders are trying to tie the subsidy debate to the contract decision.

EADS owns 80 percent of Toulouse, France-based Airbus, and Britain’s BAE Systems PLC owns the remaining 20 percent.