Airbus’s decision in 2012 to build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Alabama is often compared to Mercedes-Benz’s 1993 selection of the state as the home for its first full-scale auto assembly plant outside of Germany. Mercedes gave birth to Alabama’s automotive sector, which has become a force in the industry. Though Alabama has long had a robust aerospace sector, Airbus’s assembly line in Mobile is set to send Alabama to new altitudes in the industry.
Airbus’s manufacturing center in Mobile is the source of so much excitement that the city threw a Mardi Gras-style parade to mark the June 2015 journey of the first large aircraft components from the Port of Mobile to the factory. Assembly of the maiden Alabama-built Airbus passenger jet began shortly after, heralding a new era for the state’s aerospace sector.
Airbus spent more than two years constructing its $600 million A320 Family assembly line at Mobile Aeroplex as the most advanced facility of its kind in the world. Standing on 116 acres at the former Brookley Air Force Base, the Airbus facility is designed to produce four jetliners per month, though the rate could be ramped up to eight if needed. Airbus selected the Aeroplex because the industrial complex stands adjacent to the Port of Mobile and boasts good interstate and rail connections. Plus, the complex has two runways, the longest stretching more than 9,600 feet.
France-based Airbus opened the Alabama manufacturing facility to meet a number of strategic priorities, including being closer to its North American customers. The first Alabama-made plane, an A321ceo, was delivered to one of its largest customers, American Airlines, in 2016. Significantly, the U.S. is the largest market for single-aisle passenger jets like the A320 Family, with Airbus forecasting a demand over the next 20 years for 4,700 of the narrow-body plans in North America alone. Mobile is one of four global locations where A320 and its siblings are produced, joining Hamburg, Germany; Toulouse, France; and Tianjin, China.