Airbus Mobile FAL a victory for CEO Enders

Sept. 14, 2015, © Leeham Co., Mobile (AL): The opening of the Airbus Mobile (AL) A320 Final Assembly Line (FAL) is viewed by some close associates as a personal victory for Tom Enders, the chief executive officer of Airbus Group.

Enders began the quest of a US FAL 10 years ago, when EADS (then the name of Airbus’ parent, now Air Group) joined with Northrop Grumman to bid on the US Air Force Refueling Tanker, the KC-X. The Boeing Co. was the competition, and supplied tankers to the USAF since the end of World War II.

Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group. Photo via Google images.

But Boeing’s last KC-135 was delivered in 1966. The KC-767 International program, for Japan and Italy, was an industrial fiasco. Airbus was new to the game with its KC-330, then an untested program. EADS promised to build the tanker in Mobile, so it could claim it was US-assembled and created US jobs.

The idea that Airbus could supply the USAF with tankers instead of Boeing was heretical. The competition was bitter and prolonged. Everyone was stunned when the Air Force selected the KC-330, including EADS and Northrop.

But the USAF mucked up the process. The contract was rebid and this time, Boeing won. Enders’ dream of a US facility seemed dead.

But it wasn’t. Within a year, Alabama officials and Airbus regrouped and announced the plant would be recast as an FAL for the A320 Family.


An Airbus A321ceo, the first one that will come off the new Mobile (AL) Final Assembly Line. The airplane is destined for JetBlue. An American Airlines A321ceo is right behind it. Photo by Scott Hamilton. Click on image to enlarge.

By this time, Enders had become CEO of EADS and Fabrice Bregier CEO of Airbus. Together they pursued the dream. Some believed there was peril in this pursuit for Enders, and to a lesser degree, Bregier. The political meddling of the French and German governments in Airbus strategy, driven by employment and work-share, was well known. So was the influence of unions, ever-concerned about job loss. (Some of the more militant unions objected to the idea of the tanker being assembled in Mobile, ignoring the long-term implications of landing an important defense contract with the US military.)

Enders, in an interview yesterday with Leeham News and Comment, shrugged off the political and labor concerns.

“Actually, when we first took the decision and communicated with the politicians and labor unions, I don’t think it was as difficult as you seem to imply. We have China as an example. The China example shows we were able to significantly increase our market share of China through this investment. At the same time we created additional jobs in Europe,” Enders said.

JBLU A321 tail

The tail for the first JetBlue Airbus A321ceo is already at the “trans-shipment” plant in Mobile (AL). First flight of the first airplane to come out of the new FAL is planned for 1Q2016. Photo by Scott Hamilton. Click on image to enlarge.

“This is a growth industry, a growing industry, and we have kind of a thumb rule that one employee here trickles something like three additional employees in Europe. That’s a win-win for both sides. This was not difficult politically. This was a real strategic decision in the sense it cannot be wrong to be industrially stronger to be present in the world’s largest aerospace market. This was driving us, plus the fact that the US is the world’s largest single aisle market.”

When the decision was made to create an FAL in Mobile, Airbus had a single-aisle market share in the US of 19%. “We thought we should bring that up.”

Enders conceded that a US FAL in and of itself won’t drive a purchase decision, but all other things being equal, the ability of Airbus now offering an aircraft assembled in America by American workers provides a “psychological” factor.

“There can be some advantage of having aircraft delivered out of Mobile rather than Hamburg, Germany, or Toulouse, France,” he said.

Enders sees the A320 FAL as a key to potential future defense business with the US, noting the Mobile facility was intended to start with the tanker and then expand with a commercial site. Now, Enders sees the reverse: commercial first, followed by a military facility.

“We were always struggling with our credibility with the US military because we had no plant yet. Our credibility [now] is far bigger because we have a solid production going in the United States.”

40 Comments on “Airbus Mobile FAL a victory for CEO Enders

  1. No doubt , it is a great victory to Airbus and to A320/A321 project
    Good luck Airbus

    • Go where the low wages are and no unions. BMW and Bosch in South Carolina and Mercedes in Alabama and now Boeing and Airbus.
      The new normal is here.

          • A couple of magnitudes.
            Though the basic US setup in relation to health care , pensions and the things that are not legally framed is a foundation for this difference.
            Another good example that markets don’t fix much in a mutually beneficial way. ( and unions in the US are just another market participant )
            “Palo Conservative” Jerry Pournelle: unleashed markets would diversify into kids and human meat in no time.

          • Nothing is more dysfunctional than French unions! They actually hold that country hostage.

      • 4 a month from Mobile and 5 per month from Savannah versus about 65 airliners per month from Seattle ? Is that overtaking ?

  2. Nope, its the Typhoon!

    The dream thing is overdone but congratulation to Airbus for persevering.

    At one time I too thought an A330 (or any other) production facility in the US was heresy, but now, good for them.

    So contrary to some thinking, I too can evolve.

    Now if we can just snag that new A380NEO facility!

    • There has to be an A380NEO on paper before any production facility is thought of, and there is NO WAY they’d build that thing in the US. That’s about as likely as ESA going to the moon alone in the next 5 years……NOPE.

      “Eurocopter” seems to be doing just fine in the US, having locked up a sizable portion of the police/fire/rescue market,but “Airbus Helicopter”?!?! Come on…..I agree….name is way too clunky. (I’m an MD helicopter fan myself… one beats NOTAR!!)

      And the renaming from EADS to Airbus was completely unnecessary. Expect a change name change again in 10 years when they realize their mistake.

  3. Dont forget the Airbus helicopters ( terrible name, should have stuck with Eurocopter) have a production plant and strong sales of the H145M to US Army as the UH72 Lakota

      • No! (in a word)

        The whole reshuffle from EADS to Airbus is supidity in the extreme – a total waste of time and money. No doubt whatever PR “guru” that thought of it has got their money and is off sunning themselves in the Bahamas or somewhere living off the fruits of their [edited].

    • I think that one of the tenets of Airbus’s rebranding was to move away from its Eurocentric image to something that is more globally acceptable. Sure, Eurocopter sounds nice and is less clunky than “Airbus Helicopters”, but it becomes something out of place in the global space. Like when one has to say “These Eurocopters are made in USA”. It was the right decision IMHO.

  4. I think after the tanker selections Airbus is taking hold back approach with the A400M.

    A400M simply moves big vehicles/ helicopters up to 35t at M.7, puts them in the dirt and crosses the Atlantic without refuelling. It can refuels buddies, fighters and helicopters too.

    LM and Boeing and NASA have been spreading vertical landing, stealth concepts at attractive prices, because of the large numbers, smart production technology and long life expectancy. Guaranteed, 100%.

    Airbus sitting on the fence.

    • US Army’s armoured vehicles like Bradley or Stryker ?(with cage armour) don’t fit inside a C-130 and the C-17 was not built for unprepared airfields.

      The A400M is therefore in a good position. An US manucturer may play An-70 card.

      • Stryker already is a swiss MOWAG derived design 😉
        while the Bradley mimics the BMP-1 .

        • The original Mowag Radschützenpanzer93 weights less than 14 t.
          The Stryker 20 t and more.
          The Mowag vehicle was never thought for offroad. It was thought for Swiss cart tracks.

          • My eye was on the freedom fries debacle that Rumsfeld
            did not go for ( due to so many nice mil toys coming from abroad )

      • A US manufacturer may play the A400M card.

        LM, NG, Raytheon, L3, Spirit.. even Boeing might join in if it they risk being left out by e.g. LM.

        No doubt more than a marketing alliance would be required, e.g. >50% US content, license building..

        • A C-17 has a higher ground pressure than a 777! The C-17 has a higher empty weight than the maximum landing weight of a A400M but the same count of tires.

          The landing site for this PR stunt was well prepared and tested. It was just dusty clay. Dry clay can be as hard as concrete.

          Please call me in case a C-17 operates from a green field with soft soil.

        • Ah yes it’s Boeing so it must be some sort of nefarious stunt!
          Please call me when you stop letting bothersome facts get in the way.

          • … some sort of nefarious stunt ..

            come to think about it and looking back in (recent) history that’s not an unreasonable assumption to make, isn’t it?

    • Apparently, it can’t refuel helicopters,owing to unexpected propwash issues.The big problem is, it’s not American. Maybe the Mobile plant will help. It would be interesting to see how foreign content compares between B787 and Mobile a320’s. Funnily enough, Boeing always likes to big up it’s foreign content when selling abroad.

      • The refueling problems are related to the necessary distance between helicopter’s rotor and aircraft fuselage. The tail behind the wings is much longer for an A400M compared to a C-130. Therefore a longer hose would be necessary. The standard hose is not stiff enough. It would be no problem to refuel helicopter via a center line refueling unit.

        Full aerial refueling capability was promised for 2017 (~MSN 90). Some time for Cobham to find a solution.

  5. Airbus is dreaming of a 200+ order of the A400M from the US military. I don’t see that happening in the next 5 years. with assembly lines all over the place, airbus will feel the heat if the order bubble bursts and world economy slows down and the duopoly that they enjoy with Boeing comes to an end.

    The good side of the story is more jobs for the US.
    USA, USA, USA all the way.

  6. Airbus will never sell A400m in the U.S. PW UTC engine was drop at the last end after the French insist on a European power plant. The politics of A400m gestation will make sure no amount of lobbying will succeed as GE, BA and PW is not involved.

  7. To be honest, the PW offer was a paper one at best & PW was messing up programs at that stage (PW4000, 6000,8000).

    There are just small things giving the A400M a slight chance of attracting US attention.. solid operation requirements, a good design & no competition.

    • P&W was messing up jet engines not turbo props

      And the result of mashing 4 or so European entities together to make an engine has not been a success story.

      • Purpose created commercial entities are a regular and successful feature of European colaboration.
        Europrop is preceded by Turbo-Union (RB-199) and Euro-Jet ( EJ200).

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