Airbus delivers first made-in-USA aircraft

2 min

New York (AFP)

European aerospace giant Airbus delivered its first made-in-the-USA aircraft on Monday to mark a new stage in its battle for the home market of rival Boeing.

Airbus handed over an A321 passenger jet assembled in its Mobile, Alabama, plant to US carrier JetBlue, three years after beginning construction of the facility and just seven months after it was inaugurated.

"Going from breaking ground on this facility three years ago to handing over the first Alabama-produced A321 today is an amazing accomplishment," said Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy in a statement.

With nine other aircraft in its single-aisle A320 family currently being built at the plant, Airbus aims to get production up to four aircraft deliveries per month by the end of 2017.

The facility is the France-based company's fourth around the world. It also produces aircraft in Hamburg, Germany; Toulouse, France; and Tianjin, China.

The plant was built on the site of a World War II bomber support base in Mobile, with the goal of beating back some of Boeing's native-son advantages in the huge US market.

The company is focused on the estimated 5,000 new passenger planes expected to be ordered in North America over the next 20 years.

About four years ago, Airbus had a 20 percent share of the US market, against 80 percent for Boeing. Since announcing the Mobile plant in 2012, its market share has doubled to 40 percent.

Another important aim is greater access to the huge US defense budget. Airbus's identity as a foreign maker helped undermine its fight in 2011 against Boeing for a $30 billion Pentagon contract for aerial refueling tankers.

The United States accounts for about 35 percent of global defense spending. But last year Airbus ranked just 84th on the Pentagon's list of top contractors, according to BGA-Aeroweb.

The company expects the new plant, which will employ 1,000 workers in the final assembly of the aircraft, to help reduce production costs and make them more price competitive.

Alabama has one of the lowest minimum wages in the United States -- $7.25 per hour -- and employment benefits are about 30 percent less expensive than in Europe.

In addition, by producing in the United States, Airbus will reduce risks tied to the shifting US-euro exchange rate.

Another potential advantage could be that if Airbus wants to export US-made jets, it might gain access to the cheap credit support of the US Export-Import Bank, long an important source of advantage for Boeing, the bank's largest customer.