It might not be on the same level as deploying bombs in the United States Navy, but Ryanne Dedeaux’s job as a quality inspector at the Airbus final assembly line in Mobile still keeps her busy.
“You see, I’m sweating,” Dedeaux said when asked about the rigors of her job. “I sometimes feel like [a chicken with] my head cut off.”
A typical day for the coastal Mississippi native and Spanish Fort resident includes multiple inspections and what is called “rework” on many issues. Mobile’s Airbus facility recently reached Rate 4, which means the final assembly line can produce four planes per month for its U.S.-based customers. Dedeaux said she works 8- to 10-hour days.
“I just inspect anything that’s coming up throughout the day,” she said. “That’s basically it, and when stuff hits the wall, I’m there. I’m never bored.”
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines took delivery of the facility’s 50th A320 jet, a milestone announced Dec. 15, less than two years after the final assembly line delivered its first A320. The event was celebrated by employees and Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor and members of Delta’s delivery team.
“The 50th delivery is a real point of pride not only for our team here in Mobile, but also for tens of thousands of employees from the hundreds of U.S. suppliers that contribute to these aircraft,” McArtor said in a statement. “We said in 2012 that we were going to build Airbus aircraft in the U.S. for our U.S.-based customers. We delivered the first aircraft in 2016, and today we stand here celebrating the 50th. We’ve met our originally announced schedule, and we’ve fulfilled the commitment we made to our customers, our suppliers across the country and this Gulf Coast community.”
Dedeaux said she and other employees have a sense of pride from not only reaching this milestone, but others as well.
“I feel honored just being a part of it,” she said. “Just being in a little country state — Alabama — and a European company coming here. Seeing the folks come together to build something massive, something great — it’s just breathtaking.”
Dean Smith, a mechanic responsible for attaching the wings on each jet on the assembly line, said he, too, felt pride in his work.
“It’s pretty cool,” Smith said. “It’s different to hear about your job in the news like that. It’s cool to know you’ve made a contribution to it when you see it out on the flightline.”
Daryl Taylor, Airbus vice president and general manager, credits employees for the 50-mark.
“Team Mobile’s hard work and dedication have brought us to this milestone,” he said in a statement. “We’ve built a great team who together are building great aircraft, meeting challenges head-on and continually seeking ways to improve.”
The delivery caps a year of milestones for Airbus in Mobile. The facility has managed to achieve one of its biggest goals: producing four aircraft per month by December 2017, a summit it planned to reach from the beginning, Airbus Communications Director Kristi Tucker said.
“We are very much on schedule as outlined from the beginning,” she said in an email. “We’ve achieved Rate 4 as planned.”
While the 50th aircraft was delivered to Delta, the final assembly line has also delivered planes to three other customers — Spirit, JetBlue and American Airlines. Tucker said the facility plans to deliver to three additional customers in 2018 as it works its way toward serving a total of 11 customers based in the U.S.
The facility is currently producing four aircraft per month, but with a long list of backlogged orders, the company has the ability to expand to produce eight per month — although, Tucker said, that is not currently in the plans.
Worldwide, there is a backlog of more than 5,479 single-aisle aircraft, according to the Airbus website. Among those, 467 are for North American customers as of November 2017.
This equates to more than 13,353 orders and 7,874 deliveries so far worldwide, or 1,587 orders and 1,120 deliveries in North America.
For example, Allegiant Air has ordered 13 A320 NEO, or new engine option, aircraft. Of those, 10 have been delivered, meaning two still need to be produced.
American Airlines has ordered 100 A321 NEO aircraft, but none has been delivered, according Airbus data.
Delta has ordered 122 A321 aircraft; of those, 29 have been delivered.
Frontier Airlines has ordered 19 A319 NEO aircraft, with none as yet delivered. Frontier has also ordered 62 A320 NEO aircraft; 13 of those have been delivered.
Hawaiian Airlines has ordered 16 A320 NEO aircraft, one of which has been delivered.
JetBlue has ordered 61 A321 aircraft, 48 of which have been delivered.
Spirit has ordered 50 A320 NEO aircraft; of those, 42 have been delivered.
While the Mobile facility will primarily produce aircraft for U.S.-based customers, Tucker said it can deliver anywhere in the world if needed.
In October, Airbus announced an agreement with Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier to produce its C Series aircraft family, which, according to a statement from the two companies, will result in a second final assembly line in Mobile to serve U.S. customers.
“Airbus’ global industrial footprint will expand with the final assembly line in Canada and additional C Series production at Airbus’ manufacturing site in Alabama. This strengthening of the program and global cooperation will have positive effects on Québec and Canadian aerospace operations.”
Under the agreement, Airbus will provide procurement, sales and marketing and customer support expertise to the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP), which manufactures and sells the aircraft.
Tucker said the C Series jets would require assembly in a separate facility, as Mobile’s final assembly line is designed specifically with A320 family “tooling and jigs.”
Airbus acquired a 50.01 percent interest in CSALP, leaving Bombardier and Investissement Québec with 31 percent and 19 percent interests, respectively.
In a statement released shortly after the announcement, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson had high praise for the partnership and the positive impacts it will have in Mobile. In addition to creating jobs, Stimpson said the new line will diversify the overall manufacturing operations at the Brookley Aeroplex.
The first “flight” for many aircraft at the Airbus facility in Mobile takes place via hoist, from one station to another, Tucker said. Last week, the facility’s first NEO aircraft, known as 8129, was following a Spirit aircraft through the initial phases of production.
Segments of the aircraft, or major component assemblies (MCAs), are shipped to Mobile from Hamburg, Germany, Tucker said.
“The five MCAs are two pieces of the fuselage, front and back, the vertical and horizontal tailplane and the wings,” she said.
After initial checks, the main components of the fuselage are assembled and the galleys and lavatories are added as part of an initial step.
“Then it is craned over into station 41, where 8129 is,” she said. “And by the way, it’s craned into that position. That’s where the two pieces of the fuselage are put together — with 3,000 rivets.”
Once the fuselage is assembled, an aircraft much like 8129 is lifted by a remote-controlled crane at the top of the hangar and placed at the next station, where the wings and landing gear are attached.
“So, this is one of the most intricate stations because you’re putting the wings and landing gear on, which makes it an airplane,” she said.
Before 8129 could be moved, the Spirit aircraft, with its newly attached landing gear, had to be cleared from the space. It was pulled manually by 11 Airbus employees to the next station, where the tail section would be added.
Simultaneously, an aircraft like the Delta plane at the end of the line was being outfitted with its cabin accessories.
At Rate 4, employees are moving these aircraft about once every five days, Tucker said.
Once the cabin is in place, the aircraft gets its final tests and is painted, with the help of MAAS Aviation, Tucker said.
“So, MAAS is one of our success stories because they support our operation,” she said. “Then they saw how good the business was and looked around and saw VT MAE and opened a second hangar. That’s a second business.”
Once an aircraft is painted, it goes to flightline. Once ground testing is completed, an aircraft is flight-tested. This is done hand-in-hand with Airbus customers, Tucker said.
A flight test can last around four and half hours,” Tucker said. “If everything goes well in the flight test, we’re ready for the customer to come test it and start the delivery process.”
Smith, the mechanic, is one of the 600 direct and indirect employees currently working at the Mobile facility. He is also one of the 85 percent of Airbus Mobile employees who are from Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
Smith said he grew up in Theodore. He lives in Mobile now.
“My whole family are mechanics,” he said. “A lot of my uncles drag race and things like that. I was just kind of born into it.”
Of the 85 percent of employees from Alabama or neighboring states, 67 percent are from Mobile and Baldwin counties, Tucker said.
“So, what I always say is, we allow them to come home and use their skill, or stay home and use their skill,” she said.
Another 33 percent of Airbus employees are military veterans, like Dedeaux, who loves her first civilian job.
“For me, it’s been pretty awesome,” she said. “Especially to be here in Mobile, so close to home. …. There’s really no words to explain it.”