EADS North America and Airbus today announced a plan to build up to 48 large military and commercial airliners a year in the USA if they win the US Air Force KC-X tanker contract.
Shifting some A330 Freighter production work to Mobile, Alabama, would significantly bolster the growing US industrial footprint of Europe’s aerospace manufacturers, and bring the first large commercial aircraft assembly line to the US South.
“Today’s announcement is a historic moment for Airbus, EADS and for the U.S. aerospace industry,” said Thomas Enders, President and CEO of Airbus and member of the EADS Executive Committee.
“This significant investment would effectively transform EADS and Airbus into a second U.S.-based producer and exporter of large commercial aircraft.”
The KC-X contract requires the winner to deliver between 12-18 tankers per year, potentially allowing Airbus to assemble up to 36 freighters per year in Mobile for commercial customers. The facility would supplement Airbus’ current assembly line in Germany.
The new plan by EADS and Airbus, which has been widely anticipated, adds fuel to the economic and political clout of the company’s KC-X tanker bid, which is now based on an A330-200 converted into a freighter.
US-based Northrop Grumman is leading the so-called KC-30 tanker proposal, duelling the USAF’s incumbent tanker supplier Boeing, which is offering the KC-767.
The contract award is officially scheduled for 31 January after a four month delay, although some USAF and industry officials have recently noted that the decision could slip again until the second quarter.
Northrop and EADS officials have said a key selling point is the A330 Freighter’s market appeal, with 66 orders received in the past 12 months. This backlog should relieve any pressure on the USAF to sustain the production line for KC-X orders.
Boeing, however, has pointed out that the Northrop team’s plan carries the risk of starting up a new assembly line in Mobile, which requires establishing a new facility and training an inexperienced workforce.
Airbus has pointedly declined to specify which version of the A330 freighter will be assembled in Mobile. The company could either assemble converted A330-200 freighters or new-build A330-300 freighters, or both, in Mobile.