Five years and a global pandemic can bring about a lot of changes, but it didn’t stop Airbus from celebrating a milestone anniversary of its final assembly line in Mobile Friday, Sept. 11.
A month into his job as general manager of the aerospace company’s U.S. manufacturing hub on Sept. 14, 2015, Daryl Taylor said he was awed by the 250 employees standing behind him, the community dignitaries and the support the Mobile community showed for the foreign aircraft builder as it opened the facility. In 2020, however, COVID-19 had a masked Taylor speaking to a gaggle of local reporters about half a decade of successes.
“It’s a very different year for us all,” he said. “2020 wasn’t really going to look like this. We have many opportunities to celebrate.”
In addition to marking the fifth anniversary of the company’s first U.S. manufacturing facility making A320 jets, Taylor said Airbus recently opened a facility on its campus for the smaller A220 aircraft.
“I take pride in the employees … who have achieved every milestone, every commitment,” Taylor said. “Not even COVID has slowed us down. To me, that is the real pride I have.”
Airbus unveiled its expanded delivery center on Friday, as well. The center named for former Airbus CEO Tom Enders includes office space for Airbus customers to use while they complete the pickup of aircraft, which can take about four days total, spokesperson Kristi Tucker said. The facility includes a number of currently empty offices because, at the height of its production, the assembly line in Mobile should be producing and delivering eight planes per month.
A320 production in Mobile was on its way to eight before the pandemic, Tucker said.
The pandemic has impacted Airbus like it has the rest of the industry, Taylor said, but the company has been able to avoid layoffs of permanent employees at this point.
The aerospace industry has been hit with economic downturns before caused by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the SARS pandemic, but Taylor said while those were blips, the COVID-19 pandemic might have a longer-lasting impact.
“2020 will be the first real significant step down for aerospace in decades,” he said. “With 9/11, with SARS and with the banks in 2009, those were one-year blips; we recognize that isn’t the case with COVID.”
Although the pandemic has taken a toll on the entire aerospace industry, Taylor told reporters he believes the smaller, single-aisle aircraft will help Airbus bounce back more quickly from an economic downturn that may stay with manufacturers until 2024 or later. One reason for that is a quicker return for domestic airline travel than international, and the single-aisle A320 and A220 aircraft are better suited for domestic flights.
“It could come back before the whole industry returns,” Taylor said. “International travel will be hardest hit.”
Reporters also toured the A220 manufacturing facility Friday. Like the A320, the A220 has a single aisle and is expected to fare better than bigger jets coming out of the pandemic.
In its five years, Airbus has hired more than 1,000 employees, consisting of 29 nationalities, to work in two different manufacturing hubs. About 90 percent of the employees are from Mobile and Baldwin counties with even more coming from the Gulf Coast region, Taylor said.
There have been more than 400,000 Mobile-built Airbus flights with 60 million passengers flying 500 million miles, he said.
The two Airbus manufacturing facilities and the engineering center at the Brookley Aeroplex represent $1 billion in investment and amounts to a $1.1 billion economic impact, according to numbers from the University of South Alabama’s Center for Real Estate and Economic Development.
“When we announced our intent to build A320 family aircraft in the United States and to locate that facility in Mobile, Alabama, we also stated our intent to be a good neighbor, to create jobs and opportunities, and to help strengthen the U.S. aerospace industry,” Airbus Americas President and CEO C. Jeffrey Knittel said in a statement. “Five years later, we have become a major economic driver in creating an aerospace hub on the Gulf Coast.”
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