MOBILE, Alabama – Mike Lanier is sitting in the pilot’s seat for the most critical Alabama construction project since Mercedes-Benz built its assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County two decades ago – the Airbus Alabama passenger jet production center at Brookley Aeroplex.
For Lanier, whose team is overseeing the project, it’s a massive and complex undertaking, with an ambitious timeline and exacting construction demands. Airbus is investing $600 million in the Alabama final assembly line, where in a little over two years employees will begin production work on the company’s A320 family of jets.
Before that happens, construction workers at the Brookley site will drill 1,800 foundation pilings, pour 38,000 cubic yards of concrete and erect 5,300 tons of structural steel, according to Lanier. Buildings sprawling for 733,000 square feet will rise on the site. Workers on the Airbus project will lay down 1.45 million square feet of concrete and asphalt paving.
“There are a lot of unique things about it,” says Lanier, president of Hoar Program Management (HPM), the Birmingham firm selected in February to orchestrate all aspects of the project’s construction and design work as program manager.
The Airbus project’s significance is reflected in frequent comparisons to Mercedes, whose arrival sparked the birth of a state automotive industry that made Alabama a production powerhouse and created more than 30,000 jobs. With Airbus, Alabama will join an elite club of locations across the globe where large passenger jets are assembled and delivered to customers.
“When a huge global company selects you, it’s humbling,” Lanier says.
HPM hasn’t wasted a moment. By the time it was selected as program manager, the firm already had spent months studying Airbus and its needs, as well as how the Brookley Aeroplex plant fits into the company’s global strategy. The next working day after its selection, three separate RFP’s had gone out to design firms that had been pre-selected by the team.
Earthmoving at the 116-acre Airbus site at Brookley began hours after a star-studded April 8 groundbreaking that drew high-ranking company officials, top Alabama and local leaders and an estimated 2,000 spectators. An excavator was parked on the grass just outside the tent where the ceremony was held, ready to spring into action.
“We were anxious to get rolling,” Lanier explained.
Lanier said the Airbus project is the biggest handled so far by HPM, a sister company of Birmingham-based Hoar Construction. That’s saying something. In recent years, HPM has been responsible for projects worth a combined $3.5 billion. The firm has worked with clients including Regions Bank, Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Disney, Apple, Coca-Cola, UAB, and Alabama Power.
Airbus officials have said the Alabama plant will help it expand its share of the global market for single-aisle passenger jets, particularly in the United States, where it trails rival Boeing Co. The plant will have 1,000 workers once it ramps up to full production in 2018, turning out four or five planes each month.
“Once finished, the new A320 assembly facility will be the most modern and technologically advanced in Airbus’ global assembly network,” Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor said.
At the site now, pilings are being drilled as part of the first phase of construction, with focuses on the final assembly line, a service building and a logistics center, according to a HPM timeline. Work on the piling and foundation package, being handled by Brasfield & Gorrie, will continue throughout the year. Dothan’s Covenant Steel will handle building structure and envelope work. By late summer, the buildings will begin rising from the ground.
“We’re blowing and going,” Lanier says. “It’s been fun.”
During later phases of the project, a delivery center, transshipment hangar, gauging hangar and main gate will be constructed, and the flight line completed. Construction will wrap up in late 2015. Over the three years, an estimated 3,200 construction jobs will be created by the project.
Jeff Thompson, executive director of the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association, says Airbus picked an ideal location for its first North American assembly plant, thanks to Brookley’s two runways and its proximity to a seaport, railroads and interstate highways.
“Airbus came to Alabama because of Brookley Aeroplex. There were lots of reasons, but that was the main one. It was widely considered to be the best place in the world for an aircraft manufacturing facility,” Thompson says.