Airbus to ramp up aircraft production in Alabama

Aircraft on the assembly line

European aircraft maker Airbus (PAR: EADSF) announced Thursday that it plans to expand in the U.S. by increasing the production rate of A320 aircraft and investing $40 million to construct an additional support hanger at its Mobile, Alabama, assembly plant.

The company plans to build seven more of the single-aisle jets per month by the beginning of 2021 for a total of 63 per month. The increased operational tempo and the opening of a new assembly line this year for the A220 will result in the addition of 275 jobs during the next year, bringing total employment to almost 1,300, Airbus said.

Last year, the manufacturer added 600 jobs in Mobile. So far, it has produced 160 A320-family  jetliners there.

Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) main rival for large commercial aircraft opened the Mobile facility in 2015 to diversify its supply chain, add production capacity, be closer to major customers in the United States and improve chances to receive U.S. government contracts.

The Trump administration late last year imposed tariffs on imports of large commercial aircraft from Europe as part of an ongoing dispute about government subsidies for Airbus. The tariffs could raise the price for planes delivered from Europe, as FreightWaves previously reported, but Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker said the decision to increase production was based purely on operational needs.

“All of our U.S. production is based on the fact that there is a tremendous demand for our single-aisle aircraft from this country. Our U.S.-based customers have always enjoyed taking delivery of their aircraft from Mobile. The growth is always something we’ve considered in our business planning,” she said. “Tariffs should not be a permanent part of the economic/trade landscape, and we’re hopeful that the U.S. and Europe will negotiate an end to the current trade dispute well before our Mobile production ramp-up is complete.”

U.S. airlines with orders being filled all, or in part, from Mobile include:

  • Delta Air Lines (62 A220 planes, more than 100 A321neos)
  • JetBlue (70 220s and 81 A321neos)
  • Frontier Airlines (67 A321neos)
  • Spirit Airlines (38 A320neos) 
  • Moxy Airways (60 A220s). Moxy is a proposed low-cost startup founded by former JetBlue co-founder David Neeleman.

In early December, United Airlines placed a firm order for 50 A321neo extra-long range aircraft.

Airbus has facilities in 16 states for engineering, training, research, drone data analysis, helicopter manufacturing and satellite manufacturing. Airbus acquired a majority stake in Canadian manufacturer Bombardier’s flagship C-Series plane in 2018, renamed it A220 and began building a U.S. assembly line for it in Mobile.

The A220 is a family of narrow-body, twin-engine, medium-range jet airliners. Airbus plans to produce four A220 aircraft in Mobile by mid-decade. It also produces the plane near Montreal.

The move to Mobile added to the competition with Boeing. With the Bombardier transaction, Airbus entered the regional market and forced Boeing to respond with the takeover of Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer’s passenger jet unit.

Single-aisle jets like the A320 have limited capacity for freight, but are widely used for mail and loose cargo.