SEATTLE - Mobile, Ala. appears much closer to landing America's first Airbus factory, an assembly line building the Airbus 320. That’s according to people knowledgeable with the inner workings of the European aerospace giant and economic development.
"We're trying to make it as appealing as we possibly can,” said Governor Robert Bentley, R-Ala., in an interview in late February. His team of economic development experts was meeting at the time with Airbus executives in New Orleans. "We continue to work with Airbus and EADS."
This week, Bentley’s office is much quieter on the subject, a possible sign discussions are getting more serious.
"I don't have any information I could share at this point,” said the governor’s spokesman Jeremy King.
Mobile should come as no surprise. It’s the city where Airbus already has an engineering center and where Airbus Military operates a support complex.
Airbus planned to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force in Mobile along with large A330 freighters. But early last year, Airbus lost out to Boeing's bid for the tankers -- a move that surprised many here in the Northwest. The tankers will now be built in Everett.
It was also a huge disappointment to Alabama and Mobile as confident politicians thought they had the tanker contract in the bag.
"It's a strategic move,” said Michel Merluzeau, an analyst with G2 Solutions in Kirkland. "If you think of future Air Force programs, you need to be here.
“You want the made in America label stamped on your aircraft,” he added.
Merluzeau said currency problems with the Euro also add to the case for Airbus to establish a bigger beach head in the U.S. Large aircraft are priced in U.S. dollars, but parts, wages and many other costs that go into Airbus planes are priced in the European currency. A U.S. plant could offer some stability.
"It's probably not imminent." said Merluzeau, who grew up in France. "A deal of such magnitude and such profound impact in Europe will get packaged in a way that's acceptable to the Europeans."
If it happens, this would be the fourth Airbus factory building the A320. The others are in France, Germany and China.
Adding a fourth plant adds costs to Airbus, but there is also huge demand for the A320, which competes with the Boeing 737. Production of both jets is running flat out now to meet demand.
What does Airbus say about it? Mary Anne Greczyn, a spokeswoman for Airbus in the United States downplays the possibility.
"...our existing assembly network is plenty big and flexible enough to cope with current production, so in the near term, we don't need additional assembly line capacity,” said Greczyn.