Fourteen years after European plane maker Airbus established a U.S. engineering outpost in Wichita’s Old Town district, the company has completed its move to a new building at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.
Airbus Americas Engineering’s final group of Wichita employees started work this week at the two-story, 90,000-square-foot building at 1855 Innovation Blvd., north of 17th Street and west of Oliver.
It capped off a multistage move that began the first week of December and involved 300 employees and “a lot of moving parts,” said Brandi Chandler, who coordinated the move for Airbus.
Still, “it went extremely smooth,” said John O’Leary, who, as vice president of Airbus Americas Engineering, leads the Wichita operations for the Toulouse, France-based rival to Boeing.
But the move was more than just a means to consolidate its work into one building – instead of the two it occupied in the 200 block of North Mead – or to occupy a new building designed just for the company.
The allure, he said, is being at the university and its new Innovation Campus, where new ideas flourish and a pipeline for its future workforce exists.
“It’s the long way of saying this move makes business sense for us,” O’Leary said.
Airbus first announced plans for a Wichita engineering office in 2001 because it needed help designing the wings of the then-new A380 super jumbo jet. And the company first settled on a 12,600-square-foot warehouse at 213 N. Mead.
Eight years later, after the office had taken work on more Airbus programs and employment swelled from 27 to 200, the company added a second location across the street at 238 N. Mead, which gave it another 26,000 square feet.
Today, the Wichita office does wing design work on all Airbus commercial jetliners: the A320 family of narrow-body jets as well as its A330, A340 and A350XWB wide-body jets, including upgraded versions of those models known as neo, or new engine option.
The local center also houses a team of workers and engineers assigned to Airbus’ in-service repair and customer support center, which works directly with airlines that operate Airbus aircraft. It is one of three centers – the others are in France and Malaysia – that provide around-the clock support to airlines that need assistance repairing an Airbus airframe or structure.
“The global strategy is that follow-the-sun approach,” O’Leary said.
‘Maintaining this pipeline’
Airbus Americas’ new building has room for 411 engineers and staff members.
“We’re in a little bit of a lull,” O’Leary said of employment at the Wichita office, largely from new programs that have since ramped up and now require fewer engineers, such as the A350, which is Airbus’ answer to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
O’Leary said the move to the new office happened earlier than planned because the contractor, Crossland Construction, was ahead of schedule on completing the building, which features an open floor plan on both floors and lots of glass.
He is expecting great things because of the new location, including access to the labs at the new Experiential Engineering building and greater collaboration with WSU’s engineering and business schools, the National Institute for Aviation Research and similar companies also housed at the Innovation Campus, such as Dassault Systemes.
There’s also the students at WSU, especially those pursuing engineering degrees. With Airbus operating from WSU property, there’s the natural collaboration that will occur.
And there’s the direct collaboration through employment opportunities for engineering students. O’Leary said Airbus has some of them currently on staff who are working directly with its engineers on different teams, learning to put theory into practice. At the same time, his staff is exposed to the “enthusiasm and energy” of student engineers.
He thinks that enthusiasm could rub off on Airbus’ employees. Being on campus could also stimulate their creativity and help them generate ideas that could benefit the company and its products. “It’s a two-way path,” O’Leary said.
Being on the campus is also about preparing for the future, O’Leary said, by engaging those students who could be future employees.
“Maintaining this pipeline is critical,” he said.
“We are very excited about the future and the opportunities that are here,” O’Leary said.