Above: Airbus employee Jennifer Ogle of Fairhope takes a selfie during the grand opening celebration of the $600 million plant. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)
Likening the $600 million U.S. Manufacturing Facility to final assembly lines in Germany, France and China, Airbus Group Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders on Monday solidified the global aircraft manufacturer’s commitment to Mobile and the North American market with four simple words.
“Mobile, Alabama, is home,” Enders said on a stage overflowing with corporate and elected officials as he welcomed about 260 new hires to the Airbus fold of more than 55,000 employees worldwide.
“You are family,” Enders said to thunderous applause inside the 210,000-square-foot hangar on the 116-acre campus in the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley.
The facility, which took more than two years to complete, will be dedicated solely to assembling the popular A320 aircraft, giving Airbus the logistical advantage of servicing the massive U.S. demand for single-aisle aircraft in America.
Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier shared the company’s own 40-year history with the invitation-only crowd, calling the formal inauguration of the U.S. Manufacturing Facility “a moment of pride, not only for my teammates behind me, but for all Airbus people everywhere.”
The event was simulcast to Airbus facilities across the globe.
“I can tell you I feel extremely good to be here with you in Mobile,” Bregier said, applauding the newest Airbus employees in Mobile for bringing the facility “to life.” He called the milestone “very good for Airbus and very good for American manufacturing and aerospace.”
Enders went on to say Monday’s festivities, rather than signifying the end of a 10-year relationship leading to the facility, mark the beginning of bold steps forward with the Mobile community in a dynamic marketplace.
“Earthbound people very often say the sky is the limit. We in the aerospace community do not adhere to that notion. … Our job is to break new ground, to explore new frontiers, to push the envelope. Our job is to be bold,” Enders said.
Moreover, he said Mobile’s steadfast commitment to Airbus during the courtship for and ultimate loss in 2011 of a lucrative tanker contract servicing the U.S. Air Force embodies the brand of loyalty upon which Airbus prides itself.
“We saw (in Mobile) a place that made business sense but also we saw a like-minded community. The sky is not the limit. … People here are hungry to innovate, compete and win,” Enders said of the relationships forged in the past decade.
The loyalty and trust developed between Airbus and Mobile during and since that time has never wavered, he said, adding, “We found a true partner in this community, in this region and in this country.”
More importantly, he said, the loss of the tanker bid to archrival Boeing revealed to Airbus officials their relationship with the Port City was too strong to simply shake hands and walk away.
“We said, ‘We are not giving up on Mobile, Alabama,’ and asked, ‘What else can we do in this great place?’” Enders said.
As global demand for single-aisle aircraft began to grow and the United States emerged as the largest market internationally, Enders said Airbus found its answer.
“In Mobile, my friends, I think we’re just getting started,” he said, adding he “can’t wait to see the next chapter of the Mobile, Alabama story.”
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley echoed Enders’ sentiments, noting he considers job creation “the most important thing I do every day” and that Airbus and Alabama “share the same values and the same vision,” including “hard work, optimism and excitement about the future.”
“We are dedicated to and we take pride in quality and what we can accomplish,” Bentley said. “The Alabama workforce is strong. It is second to none and they will be an excellent partner with you and your company.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called Monday’s festivities “a commitment by Airbus to create an international hub for aircraft manufacturing” and the continuation of a “relationship of integrity with Airbus since the beginning.”
“The thrill of seeing workers compete and get better wages is really important to me. I think we need to enhance that … and I do believe manufacturing is a key component,” Sessions said, adding that the relationship between Airbus and Alabama was strengthened rather than weakened in the wake of the tanker contract loss.
“We want you to be successful. We want you to make a profit and even hire some more Alabamians,” Sessions said.
Roger Wehner, executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, said there is no question Monday’s celebration culminates a decade of “very hard work by many people.”
“Partially, it’s vindication of the tanker (contract loss) for a lot of people, but basically it’s validation of what our teamwork brings to bear,” Wehner said.
Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the new U.S. Manufacturing Facility is “as beautiful as it is productive” and challenged the forces that worked together to make it a reality to dig in and see how far their alliance can go.
“This is a foundation,” Riley said. “This is when we take what we have here and watch it grow. Aviation and aerospace in the next 10 to 15 years is going to grow exponentially. This is a great foundation, a great first step … but I really do think the best is ahead of us.”