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Mar 22, 2016

Airbus America liftoff is about global restructuring of jet making

The practice of aerospace manufacturing as a global rather than national business took another symbolic step up overnight with the first flight of an Airbus A321 made in Mobile, Ala

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This is about so much more than a US assembled European jet
This is about so much more than a US assembled European jet

The practice of aerospace manufacturing as a global rather than national business took another symbolic step up overnight with the first flight of an Airbus A321 made in Mobile, Alabama.

The jet concerned is the largest single aisle aircraft made by Airbus, and the ‘Aeroplex’ in which it is made is a remaking of a World War II USAF base in a small but prosperous historic town in the Deep South, which was founded in 1702 as the capital of the French colony of Louisiana.

The planned maximum capacity of the Aeroplex is eight A320 NEO family jets a month by late 2018 or 2019. Depending on the total output of this massively successful design by then, with guidances of more than 60 per month having already been discussed by Airbus, this could be one in eight of every new A320 NEO being made.

A similar number of these jets is expected to continue to be made in the already well established A320 final assembly line in Tianjin, China, which means that around one quarter of the world’s strongest selling single aisle design will be assembled outside of Europe, and with significant non-European components depending on engine and systems and cabin fit out choices.

The Airbus A320 strategy is in general terms the reverse of the Boeing Dreamliner outsourcing strategy, in that it kept control of the design and capital requirements of its intellectual property (and all of the profits) in Europe, while sending substantial parts of the unassembled airliners from the EU to China and America for completion.

Boeing with its 787 line up shared the design, capital and risk requirements of key parts of those airliners with partners in Asia, and imported overseas made parts to the US for final assembly, where the question as to what if any real profits will be retained by Boeing investors in the Dreamliner project is at times controversial.

The Boeing strategy was framed in the early part of the century as making the 787 project affordable. It was all about funding the project, with undertones of avoiding reliance on US engineering talents and unionised labor in Washington state. The Airbus strategy was about getting sales in Asia and the Americas that it mightn’t have otherwise won, and avoiding assembly congestion caused by demand exceeding supply.

Neither strategy appears to be completely successful in that meeting demand for single aisle jets continues to be challenging for Airbus and Boeing,  as is contingency planning for any large scale global recession.

In a statement Daryl Taylor, Vice President and General Manager of the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility said “We’re creating a new center of commercial aircraft production in the U.S. This is just the first of many aircraft to come.”

Following the maiden flight, the aircraft will go through a few more weeks in final production before being delivered to JetBlue, closely followed by more A321s for American Airlines.

A transition from making current engine tech A321s to new engine tech or NEO versions of the single aisle design is expected in the near future.

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