The Airbus final assembly line in Mobile, which is “on schedule, on time and on budget,” according to a spokeswoman, will be yet another notch in the state’s aerospace belt once it begins producing aircraft early next year. But while the facility’s birth has not yet led to the windfall of related business suggested early on, officials urge patience as production ramps up.
Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker said the facility at the Brookley Aeroplex is nearing completion and scheduled to open in early 2016. The company currently has certificates of occupancy for the service building, the logistics center and the powerhouse — three of the facility’s eight buildings.
“Construction is progressing and we’re very happy,” Tucker said.
The facility will assemble major components of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, including the wings, fuselage and tail, which will be shipped to Mobile from Hamburg. The other parts will be made at various locations throughout Europe, Tucker said.
When rollout of the first jets begin, the facility will produce four planes per month. Airbus “will slowly ramp up” production at the facility, Tucker said, until it reaches up to eight planes per month.
The eventual rollout of more aircraft is important because it’s expected to make the area much more appealing to suppliers, which would mean, presumably, more jobs would come to the area.
“We’re still in talks with suppliers which want to move,” Tucker said.
Alabama Department of Commerce Aerospace Program Manager Bob Smith said the state will become one of only a few places in the world where large aircrafts are built. Not only will Airbus begin with the assembly of four A320 aircraft per month, but in 2018 is expected to develop its A320neo there, an acronym for “new engine option.” Smith said the neo is 15 percent more efficient than comparable aircraft and with the evolution will come new jobs for the area.
“That’s when you’ll start to see new suppliers locating here,” he said. “Nothing clusters as much as Aerospace. That’s what makes it so attractive.”
Tucker said Airbus has already hired 215 people, 100 of whom are currently in Hamburg, Germany training at another Airbus assembly line. Seventy-one percent of those hired to date already lived in the Mobile area. Of the new hires, 31 percent are veterans of the United States armed services.
“We’re very pleased with the talent we’re finding,” she said. “We’re finding great local talent.” Tucker said several suppliers have already partnered with Airbus to build and operate the final assembly line, but production itself is expected to a lure to bait others. Honeywell built and completed the on-site power station and will remain there to operate it, Tucker said. MAAS will manage a paint shop at the facility and there will also be an on-site logistics services provider.
“We fully expect more to follow,” Tucker said. “It’s just a trend … ”
As more jobs become available in the area, political and educational leaders hope to prepare a workforce able to take them. Local organizations and municipalities like the Mobile and Baldwin county public school systems, the city of Fairhope and the state two-year college system have all taken steps to prepare existing and future students for work in several local industries, including aerospace.
As one example, dozens of dignitaries were on hand last Saturday for a ribbon cutting and dedication of The Academy on the grounds of the H.L. Sonny Callahan Airport in Fairhope.
The Academy began hosting Baldwin County students in January. The facility’s three classrooms and labs will prepare students for work in industrial maintenance, welding and aviation fields.
Faulkner State and Enterprise community colleges will also teach classes in the building, which the Baldwin County school system leased from the Fairhope Airport Authority for a lump sum of $2.7 million.
Gov. Robert Bentley said Saturday The Academy, which has been in the works since 2006, will help the state’s economic development by providing a skilled workforce in three important areas. In addition, he said economic development relied on recruitment of industry, renewal and retention.
“You have to have a skilled workforce,” Bentley told the crowd. “If you don’t, you can’t recruit or retain.”
Across the bay, The Signature Academy of Aviation and Aerospace at B.C. Rain High School has also been put into practice by the Mobile County public school system, and has accepted more than 100 students since 2013.
The aerospace industry has a rich history in Alabama, which started with the development of the Saturn 5 rocket, according to Smith. Boeing provides 3,000 jobs in the Huntsville area. The federal government has also invested in aerospace facilities at Redstone Arsenal and Fort Rucker, he said. In all, the aerospace and defense industries account for about 83,000 jobs statewide.
What makes the Airbus facility in Mobile so special, Smith said, is that it will be the first commercial aerospace operation in the state.
“It gives us a brand new inroad into the commercial side,” Smith said. “That’s what’s so exciting.”