MOBILE, Ala. — In the battle to dominate the global aviation industry, European aerospace giant Airbus announced its first assembly plant in the United States on Monday, a symbolic and significant step in the competition with archrival Boeing.
The French-based company said the Alabama plant is expected to cost $600 million to build and will employ 1,000 people when it reaches full production, likely to be four planes a month by 2017.
“We are going to create great jobs and generate growth right here,” Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said at the convention center in Mobile, where many of the 2,000 people in attendance waved American flags as music played in the background.
“We know in aerospace, when we create one job, there are about four related jobs so we could bring as many as 5,000,” Bregier said at a later news conference. “The management to the blue collars will be 100 percent American.”
Boeing already has a big presence in Alabama, employing 2,700 people in defense and rocket operations.
Airbus planned to build refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force in Alabama, but its parent company, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., lost the contract to Boeing in 2011.
Wichita had anticipated getting the tanker work at its plant, but Boeing announced early this year that it was shutting down its Wichita operations by the end of 2013 and that the tanker work Wichita had hoped to get would be done in Washington state.
Airbus already has facilities in the United States, including an engineering center in Wichita and parts plants elsewhere. But a full-fledged planemaking factory is a more significant presence and could help it boost its share of U.S. commercial and defense contracts.
The Airbus plant advances the company’s strategy of expanding production outside its home base. The company, jointly run by French and German management and with plants in several European countries, wants to expand in China and India as well as the United States.
EADS shares have being climbing on European markets since news of the Alabama deal surfaced last week.
Airbus plans to manufacture the A320, a widely used plane flown by Delta Air Lines, US Airways and others. The 150-seat plane is generally used on short- and medium-haul flights, and Airbus makes more of them than any of its other planes. They retail for $88 million, although discounts are common for big customers.
The Mobile operation will join Airbus assembly plants in Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China.
The southern region of the United States is traditionally unfriendly to unions, which will likely mean lower labor costs compared with the company’s factories in France and Germany.
“Clearly we selected a competitive environment and we are businessmen so we don’t go to the worst place,” Bregier said.
Airbus unions have expressed concern about European jobs lost to the U.S., a particularly thorny issue in France as new President Francois Hollande tries to re-invigorate manufacturing at home.
Other big manufacturers have found homes in the southern U.S.. Boeing has a plant in North Charleston, S.C., and Alabama is home to plants owned by Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
Mobile is already home to several aerospace companies, including ST Aerospace Mobile, Goodrich Aerospace and Star Aviation, and much of the business is based at the 1,650-acre Brookley Aeroplex, where the new plant will be based. The aeroplex was an Air Force base until its closure in 1969.