Airbus’ final assembly line at the Brookley complex will produce the A320 family of narrow-body jetliners, with the first customer delivery taking place in Mobile in 2016. But the ripple effects of the project will be felt long before then, and Brookley stands to be the prime beneficiary.
“Brookley is situated right in the center of the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, and the Airbus facility sets us up to be the nucleus of that corridor,” said Bill Sisson, the former executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, which owns and operates the Brookley complex.
Airbus officially begins construction of the facility at the Brookley site today with a groundbreaking ceremony.
Sisson, now president of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said Brookley is ideally equipped to capitalize on growth fueled by Airbus and the region’s rising aerospace/aviation sector. The 1,650-acre industrial park has a runway capable of landing the world’s largest aircraft, stands adjacent to one of the nation’s busiest ports and connects to two interstates and five railroads.
In addition, Brookley’s prospects for growth in aviation/aerospace are enhanced by Alabama’s top-rated worker training programs and the state’s proven track record in economic development, Sisson said. Also, the aviation/aerospace sector is a key target in Accelerate Alabama, the state’s five-year strategic economic development growth plan.
“Because Airbus is locating here, it really positions Brookley as a great anchor for development,” Sissons said. “All of the logistics that drew Airbus here in the first place also apply to suppliers as well. It’s certainly hard to beat Brookley’s logistics.”
Alabama already has a vibrant aerospace sector, comprised of more than 300 companies with 83,000 employees, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. Many of the biggest aerospace companies have a presence in the state, and the industry spans from Huntsville to the Gulf Coast.
Huntsville has been a major hub for decades with Redstone Arsenal, the center of the U.S. Army’s missile and rocket programs, and the Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V rocket that took man to the moon was developed.
Montgomery was the site of the nation’s first civilian flight school, founded by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Today, its Maxwell Air Force Base employs 12,000 people and servcs as the headquarters of the Air University, a major training institution.
In Mobile, Brookley houses aviation and aerospace companies including ST Aerospace, which provides commercial aircraft maintenance, and Continental Motors, which makes piston engines for light planes. Airbus also has an engineering office at Brookley. Together, these companies employ more than 2,000 people.
“We already have the beginnings of an aerospace cluster here,” Sisson said.
Sisson said Brookley is logical first-choice location for key Airbus suppliers that need to be in close proximity to the A320 assembly line. Safran Engineering, a service provider to Airbus, is holding a grand-opening ceremony today for its office at Brookley.
Sisson expects other to follow.
“There are a certain number of suppliers that will need to be on the Airbus campus because of production needs,” he said.
The Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor is often defined as the stretch along Interstate 10 from New Orleans to Panama City, Fla., that hosts a heavy concentration of military bases involved in aviation and a significant NASA presence.