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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Airbus celebrates 10 years in Wichita

By Molly McMillin
The Wichita Eagle

Ten years ago, Airbus opened an engineering center in Old Town with 27 people and wing design work on the Airbus A380 jetliner.

Today, the European-based company employs 350 people and designs parts of every Airbus product flying.

And it’s still growing.

Airbus is looking to partner with or acquire companies to grow its services business, Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, said after the celebration Monday.

“We’re actively looking for opportunities,” McArtor said.

Those companies could be suppliers, service providers, parts refurbishment, overhaul, aircraft maintenance or aircraft management, he said.

It’s looking at Kansas companies.

With the relationship Airbus has in Wichita, “we’re taking a serious look at Kansas,” McArtor said.

On Monday, hundreds of Airbus employees, executives, elected officials and others marked the engineering center’s 10-year anniversary with a celebration outside the Airbus facility.

The site is Airbus’ first and largest engineering and design facility outside Europe.

“There’s a reason we’re here,” McArtor told those gathered. “Location, location, location. This is where the talent is.”

Mayor Carl Brewer issued a city proclamation calling June 11, 2012, “Airbus Day” in Wichita.

The facility held a formal grand opening on June 10, 2002.

It later expanded into space directly across from the first site.

The investment has paid off.

“Our story here is one of growth and commitment,” said John O’Leary, vice president of Airbus engineering in Wichita. “There’s a great talent pool here in Wichita. It’s easy to attract engineers. We’re delighted to be in Old Town.”

At the ceremony, Airbus announced that its charitable arm, Airbus Corporate Foundation, will work with the United Way of the Plains in Wichita to sponsor an educational and mentoring program called the Airbus Foundation Flying Challenge. It will be a partnership among Airbus employees, Wichita State University engineering students and “at risk” middle school students. The program will promote staying in school, doing well academically and careers in the engineering field.

The program is valued at $250,000.

“We need to show our youth what science, math, engineering and technical skills can do — it can make airplanes fly, cars that get 50-plus miles per gallon, satellites that go to space and more,” said Barry Eccleston, president and CEO of Airbus Americas.

Gov. Sam Brownback congratulated Airbus on the milestone and its growth in Wichita.

He also applauded the move to work with students, saying the state aims to grow the number of engineering graduates from WSU, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas by 60 percent.

“It’s one thing to tell students to dream,” said Betty Arnold, president of the USD 259 Board of Education. “It’s another thing to show students that dreams come true.”

Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition interim leader Suzie Ahlstrand, said the group and the city were glad Airbus chose to locate in Wichita.

“We were very excited because of the jobs, and we were very excited because it was going to be in downtown,” Ahlstrand said.

McArtor said he was confident 10 years ago that the Wichita Airbus engineering center was going to be successful.

“I see it growing even more,” he said. “We knew if we could gain the confidence of our engineering departments within Airbus, we could grow this center, and that’s exactly what happened,” McArtor said. “They (the employees) did such good work and made a reputation for themselves. So it’s easy to grow. It’s easy to grow when you’re good.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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