Airbus parent company EADS announced this week that it is soliciting bids for design and construction of a facility in Mobile, Ala., where it hopes to convert A330 freighter airframes into aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.
EADS will build the facility only if it beats Boeing for the $40 billion tanker contract. The contract award is expected early in the new year.
If EADS wins, some initial Air Force A330 tankers would be built in Europe and converted at the new Mobile facility. Later, EADS will also build the A330 tankers in a separate new final assembly plant in Mobile.
At peak rate, about 15 tankers a year are to be produced.
Once the tanker line is in production, Airbus also intends to assemble perhaps twice as many A330 commercial freighter aircraft at the same plant.
That could mean up to 45 wide-body jets a year eventually rolling out in Mobile, creating a substantial U.S. presence for the European planemaker.
EADS has said that 48,000 jobs in the U.S. will be created or supported by an A330 tanker program, with 1,500 people directly employed in Mobile.
Those numbers are purely for the tanker program. "Once we build (A330 commercial) freighters, that number would go up," said EADS spokesman Guy Hicks.
Boeing has said that a win for its 767 tanker proposal will support 50,000 U.S. jobs at Boeing and its suppliers, including 7,500 in Kansas.
Boeing Wichita would be a finishing center for the tanker, and Spirit AeroSystems builds the 767's forward section.
This week, hopes for a Boeing tanker win dimmed when a leading defense analyst and congressional sources disclosed that Boeing executives are pessimistic after inadvertently leaked data seemed to favor the EADS airplane.