July 11, 2012
Airbus’s decision to build an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., is just the start of a broad campaign to greatly expand its supplier base in the U.S., says the air framer’s top North American official.
“We’re spending $12 billion in the U.S. now and we want to double that over the next 15-20 years,” Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor said in an interview with Aviation Week at the Farnborough air show. “We’re actively recruiting and trying to qualify additional suppliers for subassemblies and components.”
When it opens in 2015, Airbus’s new $600-million line in Mobile will operate just like the company’s A320 assembly plant in Tianjin, China, snapping together subassemblies that are shipped from Europe. But with much of those content in those subassemblies originating in the U.S. – 40% of Airbus’s global procurement is with U.S. suppliers -- the company ultimately is aiming to move major component work to North America, either in southeastern U.S. state or northern Mexico. “It’s not our objective to use a trusted but old formula to supply Mobile,” McArtor says.
Airbus has not yet set a timetable for shifting the subassembly work to the U.S. The company says a similar shift would not make sense in Tianjin because its subassemblies contain relatively little Chinese content.
Airbus plans to assemble four A320s per month in Mobile by 2017, and the factory is designed with enough capacity to double that output. McArtor says the company ultimately aims to locate military aircraft work in Alabama. “I want to make sure we design the complex down there with a view toward what’s next,” he says. “Is it [next-generation] KC-Y s [tankers], is it A400Ms, is it military conversions? It will happen.”
Airbus’s move to expand its U.S. supply base comes as the company’s current suppliers struggle to keep up with a ramp-up in A320 production rates. “Our flattening for the moment of production rates of single aisles is not because of a lack of confidence in the market, but because the supply chain is a bit worrisome,” McArtor says.
The Airbus official laments that the company was not vigilant enough in making sure that its suppliers made the investments needed to keep up with plans to increase A320 production, which the company at one point had considered raising to 44 per month from 40 currently. “There’s a market for 50 a month,” he says. “There’s a 10-year bubble that we can supply. But you can’t do it without the supply chain.”