Airbus: Going Mobile

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Perhaps tired of answering questions about A380 wing cracks and customer concerns over the A350-1000, Airbus is trying to change the topic of discussion for the Farnborough air show to its U.S. expansion plan.

That the company has continued to have had internal discussions about expanding its Mobile, Alab., engineering facility to a production site was highlighted in March by EADS CFO (at the time) Hans-Peter Ring, who confirmed continued contact with local officials. Mobile was to be the A330 final assembly site should the U.S. Air Force select the A330-based tanker in its KC-X program. It didn’t, and the A330 FAL concept went away.

But the talks Ring alluded to in March appear to have progressed. Bloomberg News and New York Times reports suggest the focus has changed to narrowbodies, though, where a huge fleet replacement cycle looms in the U.S. 

Some U.S. carriers have in the past still shown reluctance to buying a European aircraft.

There are still a lot of uncertainties about what Airbus will do. How high will the production rate be in Mobile and at whose expense does it come? Airbus is boosting output to 42 A320-family aircraft per year, but is holding off, for now, on going to 44 aircraft per month, so any U.S. output will come at the expense of either Hamburg or Toulouse (the Tianjin facility in China is unlikely to be hit). Narrowbody production is likely to increase again once the A320NEO comes online, though.

The move would be one of the first signs the new EADS/Airbus leadership team of Tom Enders and Fabrice Bregier will move more aggressively on key strategic issues; expansion to the U.S. had long been in the plan under prior EADS CEO Louis Gallois, but pulling the trigger proved difficult.

Much remains uncertain about the Mobile plan, such as when it will become operational. The facility is all-but certain to build A320NEOs, but whether and how many current generation A320s may come off the line remains to be revealed. Much of that should come out even before the Farnborough air show formally kicks off.

Will that be enough to deflect attention from A380 and A350 issues? Probably not.

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