US factory no threat to Filton, says Airbus
BOSSES at aeroplane manufacturer Airbus have moved to quell fears over its announcement it will open its first factory in the US.
There have been concerns at the company's plant in Filton – where more than 4,000 staff are employed – that some of its work is to be moved overseas.
Last year a multi-million-pound contract went to South Korea. The imminent closure of Filton Airfield has added to the disquiet at the plant.
The company has publicly stated that it will be concentrating on the fast-growing markets in the Far East over the next two decades. But senior executives at the world's biggest aircraft manufacturer are adamant that its vital research and development work will remain in Bristol.
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The decision to open a factory in the US is seen as a direct challenge to Airbus's biggest rival, US-owned Boeing. Last year Airbus overtook Boeing as the world's biggest manufacturer.
An Airbus plant in Alabama is due to open in 2016 and will assemble narrow-body A320 aircraft, the company's most popular plane.
The factory is expected to create 1,000 jobs and help the company take "more than a few percentage points" from Boeing, according to Airbus head of sales John Leahy.
Airbus holds 20 per cent of the market for narrow-body jets in the United States, compared with 53 percent of the market worldwide.
Components will still be built in Europe but will be assembled in America.
Airbus is hoping that having a US facility will help it win deals there.
The plant will be only the second Airbus has outside Europe that builds its biggest-selling plane. The other is in China.
Mr Leahy said: "I think we became American with this.
"Even if we have been spending $12 billion a year in the US and have 40 per cent of our procurement in the US that does not quite make you American in the way an assembly line does."
Airbus said the new plant had the potential to create 5,000 jobs for the city of Mobile and surrounding area.
"There is a wave of replacement of aging aircraft and we have the right product for that, the A320neo," Airbus's newly-appointed chief executive Fabrice Bregier said. "So it is clear that producing this aircraft in America is an advantage commercially."
Airbus landed a multi-billion-dollar deal to supply the US Air Force with a fleet of refuelling tankers four years ago – only to have the contract taken away following an outcry from American politicians angry that military planes were not being built in the States.
The deal was seen as the most significant in the aviation sector for a generation and would have safeguarded hundreds of jobs at Filton for several decades. Airbus has been looking to open a factory in America ever since and has been in talks with politicians in various states.