Airbus, HPM execs talk Alabama A320 assembly plant

Airbus Group Chairman and CEO Allan McArtor, right, talks with HPM President Mike Lanier as work continues on the Airbus assembly line in Mobile, Alabama.
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MOBILE, Alabama – Construction work on the Airbus Alabama passenger jet production facility is moving forward on schedule, with the steel skeleton of a logistics center soon to rise near the assembly hangar already standing at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley site.

Two of the project’s chief figures – Airbus Group Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Allan McArtor and Hoar Program Management President Mike Lanier, who is overseeing the work – said the $600 million A320 Family Assembly Line will be ready for production to begin in Alabama during summer 2015.

On a recent afternoon, McArtor and Lanier joined Made in Alabama at the site to talk about the project. With the sprawling assembly hangar as a backdrop, the men discussed how the construction work is unfolding at Mobile Aeroplex, which was selected as the home for Airbus’ first U.S. assembly facility two years ago.

McArtor also discussed job-training initiatives that will help Airbus assemble its 1,000-strong workforce and outlined reasons the global aviation giant selected Alabama for this key project.

Q: Give us a progress report on the Assembly Line construction project. Is it moving forward along the timeframe that you previously stated?

McARTOR: From the Airbus perspective, the Assembly Line project is right on time, right on schedule, right on budget, and we could not be more pleased with the performance of our contractors and Hoar Program Management.

LANIER: We set out on a timeline over a year and a half ago and things are coming together just like we expected them to.

Q: What’s the next structure to rise on the site?

LANIER: The next major structure to be coming up is the logistics center, right here to the back of us. It will come on to the side of the Assembly Line building. Then after that, the final phase, flight line and the gauging hangars will be on the other side of assembly line building and beyond that will be the delivery center.

Q: Is everything still on track with the first customer delivery in 2016?

McARTOR: Airbus committed to delivering to our first customer in April 2016. JetBlue plans to accept the first airplane out of here, and we are right on track to do that. We expect to be ready to begin assembling airplanes about this time next year, in the early summer of 2015 and deliver that first airplane in 2016.

Q: AIDT has opened its training center at the Aeroplex. Allan, how important will that be to your efforts to assemble a workforce?

McARTOR: One of the most important partners that Airbus has in Alabama is AIDT, our training facility. We broke ground on the training facility a few months ago, and we cut the ribbon (on June 24); it is an integral part in the success of this assembly line because this is where we are going to train the technical talent to assemble our A320 family airplanes.

Read an article on the Alabama Aviation Training Center.

Q: Allan, can you comment on why Airbus selected Alabama and how that partnership is developing?

McARTOR: Airbus was looking to fill out its global strategy of industrial presence in Europe, China and the United States. We were looking for an industrial home, and we looked at states all over the United States and around the coastal community. We wanted an airport, we wanted lots of real estate, and we wanted a deep-water port. So when we narrowed it down to the finalists, Alabama to us was the most business friendly state we could find.

We found in Alabama a willingness to work with us, a willingness to train our employees, proven history with the automobile industry and the aerospace industry that was already in Alabama, and a state and local government that was going to be our partner.

The other good decision we made was picking our construction partner in Hoar Program Management. We could not have picked a more professional and more personable group with whom to work.

LANIER: It has been fun being a part of this, getting to know Airbus, Allan and all his teams, the project teams from Europe, Germany and France that we are working with. They’ve just become good friends through this process, and I think we’ve created some friendships that are going to last after we get this project up and running.

Q: Airbus has made initial hires and sent some of them to Germany for training. What’s next for them and the other employees?

McARTOR: We have made several initial hires and they are now in Hamburg, Germany, going through on-the-job training. They will be there for several months and then they come back and they get familiar with this facility. By that time we’ll be operational, so they can get used to the jigs and tools and equipment and this Assembly Line, which will be the most efficient one we have in all the Airbus facilities. And then, it’ll be their job to help train additional employees, so we are pretty excited about it.

Q: Mike, what’s it like for your firm to be at the center of a project that’s considered so important to the future of Alabama?

LANIER: It’s been really exciting to be a part of this huge project. Airbus created such a buzz when they announced in July 2012 that they were coming. I tell people it’s like being married to a super model — everybody wants to know what it’s like working with a big global firm like this. But seriously it’s a great honor for all of our teammates to be a part of this, and the contractors we brought on board.

We’ve got a very, very high percentage of Alabama firms involved in the project, which was a goal that Airbus wanted us to achieve, and we’ve been able to do that. We take great pride in employing as many Alabama firms as we have.

Q: From a construction standpoint what’s the most interesting aspect of this project?

LANIER: We have learned how airplanes are built, how an Assembly Line building like this functions. To support our customers, we had to learn how they build airplanes — not down to the minute details but how the big pieces all come together in this building for a complete aircraft to roll out the other end.

Read an article on the construction project.

Q: Allan, can you describe for us what’s going to be happening in that building behind you there?

McARTOR: We bring major components and assemblies from Europe, ocean freight, and we take them off the ship at the Mobile port, and we bring them on trailers over here to stage them into the Assembly Line. Then we will assemble the airplane just like you build a model airplane — we bring the fuselage in, we put the nose on the airplane, the cockpit on, the tail. We bring the wings together, put the engine pylons on it and then mount the engine. And then we test fly it.

Q: Will you be joining us for the delivery of the first plane?

McARTOR: You bet! I wouldn’t miss that for the world. I’ll be right here in 2016 for that first delivery to JetBlue.