Company executives cheered the creation of a new center for commercial airplane production in the U.S., while state leaders hailed the launch of Alabama’s aerospace industry into a new stratosphere.
But perhaps no one was more proud than the people who made that plane, the Airbus workers who on that day could be heard saying “I built that” and “We did it.”
“Airbus’ Alabama manufacturing facility is producing more than planes — it’s also producing new opportunities that are enriching the lives of the company’s workforce, and benefiting their families and their communities,” said Governor Robert Bentley, who is scheduled to visit the factory next week.
By 2018, the Alabama manufacturing facility is expected to produce 40 to 50 A320 family aircraft per year, supporting around 1,000 jobs. The facility now has more than 360 employees.
“Airbus has had a transformational effect on Alabama’s aerospace industry, as evidenced by the new jobs and investment that are landing in Mobile and in surrounding communities at businesses supporting the assembly line,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“It’s also had a transformational effect on its workforce, which brings skill, dedication and the pursuit of excellence to their workplace every day.”
‘OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE’
“Airbus has given me the opportunity to shine more than I knew I could,” said Jennifer Milligan, a 31-year-old Mobile resident who is a structural mechanic and delegate inspector at Station 41 at the Airbus plant.
“With the support of my manager, HR team, and even my teammates I feel like the possibilities are limitless. I feel like I have the opportunity to do anything I want to with my career. My manager specifically makes that clear to me, and even encourages me to do so. I’ve never once felt like I was stuck or that I couldn’t move up. I honestly can’t express enough my gratitude for the support I have had.”
Likewise, Carlos Avellanet, 27, said Airbus has given him new opportunities through his job as a transport and logistics service manager.
“This job has meant a huge deal to me,” the Daphne resident said. “The global opportunities that Airbus offers are not rivaled. I never could have imagined living abroad for months, in China and Germany, and not only enjoying myself, but using the knowledge I gained about the cultures to help with day-to-day work. Now my mindset is to take on global projects for Airbus and work with all of the different cultures. It’s exciting.”
Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the partnership with Airbus is already yielding significant benefits for the community.
“Airbus has without question provided great opportunity economically for the Mobile region,” he said. “Even more than that, the Alabama workers who have gone to work there are being given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for a global company in exciting and rewarding careers.”
BUILDING A CAREER
For Milligan, who grew up in Mobile, going to work for Airbus was a way to go back home.
In all, she had nearly 10 years of heavy sheet metal experience prior to joining Airbus in October of 2014.
“I wanted to be back in my hometown,” Milligan said. “I also saw a huge opportunity with being able to start a project from the ground up. I wanted to be a part of Airbus coming to the U.S., especially to Mobile. I wasn’t just looking for a job. I was looking for a long-lasting career.”
And that career is already producing major accomplishments.
“Seeing the first plane come together and take flight was a very proud moment for all of us,” Milligan continued. “In the crowd you could hear random comments, ‘I built that’ or ‘We did it.’ We had a big celebration for it. It was an amazing feeling for sure.”
As for the future, Milligan said her career goals are a little open-ended right now.
“For starters, my main focus right now is getting Station 41 where it needs to be for the ramp up. Once things are moving smoothly, I do want to move up. I’m not exactly sure in which direction yet. I think I will have to wait and see where my experience takes me,” she said.
‘PART OF A TRANSFORMATION’
Meanwhile, Avellanet came to Airbus from L3 Communications in Crestview, Florida, where he started as a student intern in the summer of 2006. He continued to work there part time while he was in high school and was made a full-time employee in the property management department following his 2008 graduation.
He was later promoted to run the warehouse and continued in that role until leaving for Airbus.
Avellanet’s original interest in Airbus was sparked when the company was in the running for a refueling tanker contract with the Air Force, since his L3 background is government aircraft.
“When plans for the A320 manufacturing facility came up, I naturally was interested after all the researching I had done during the tanker proposal,” he said. “Working in aviation goes hand-in-hand with my favorite hobby: airplanes. Being involved in the day-to-day manufacturing is an exciting thing to me.”
“Being part of a transformation would be a huge deal for me. Airbus is such a large company with so many aspects, so we must embrace technology. Mobility would allow me to help other Airbus teams globally with items I am proficient in. Upon return, the knowledge transfer would benefit the whole team,” he said.
Working globally also allows him to expand his knowledge about how different cultures see some situations.
“I enjoy learning as much as possible,” he said. “There are so many great coworkers in Airbus with experience from all over the world. Listening will help expand my job skills.”
For Avellanet, seeing that first test flight brought back memories of his Airbus career up to that point.
“All of the traveling, training and rainy days in Hamburg were for this day. All of the people I had met talking about how much I would enjoy seeing it all come together and the pride I would feel were nothing but correct. This will be everyone’s favorite build on this site for a long time to come,” he said.
‘NOT JUST A JOB’
Milligan and Avellanet say it’s the people and culture that impress them most about the Airbus plant.
“For a majority of the people here, it’s not just a job, we all care,” Milligan said. “For example, at my station we are like a family. We look after each other and keep each other focused. This place is more than just another manufacturing facility, we all have so much invested in it that you would think we were all co-owners.”
Avellanet said he was first impressed by the brand new, state-of-the-art Mobile facility.
“This then evolved when I started meeting my coworkers and realizing what top-notch people we have,” he said. “We have all grown together, and the team here is putting out a great product.”