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Airbus Chalks 50-Plane Sale to United Airlines

United Airlines has ordered 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft, primarily for use on its transatlantic routes, the airline and Airbus announced today.

Announced in June 2019, the A321XLR is designed for longer range and better fuel economy compared to other versions of the popular A320/A321 family. The deal could potentially be worth $6 billion depending on volume discounts and other factors.

“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” said Andrew Nocella, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at United, which is based in Chicago.

“The selection of the A321ZLR by the leadership of United Airlines is a ringing endorsement of the range, payload and fuel efficiency that Airbus incorporated into this state-of-the-art aircraft,” said Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France.

United plans to use the new planes, slated for delivery beginning in 2024, to phase out older models and expand transatlantic routes.

Airbus says the new single-aisle craft will have a range of 4,700 nautical miles with 30 percent less fuel consumption per seat than similar earlier models. The extended range and greater fuel efficiency will make it possible to reach more European destinations, the aircraft company notes. And industry observers comment that the single-aisle plane will make it possible to serve destinations that don’t have enough demand to support larger planes.

“In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR opens potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe,” Nocella said.

Although its major facilities are in Europe, Airbus assembles A320/A321 and smaller A220 family aircraft in Mobile. The company has so far not determined where the A321XLR for this order will be assembled, but company officials note that any A220 or A320 order helps build the order book, benefitting all the facilities involved in building that family of aircraft.

At the end of October, Airbus had 7,000 firm orders for A320new family aircraft, from 110 customers around the world.

Airbus Tops Boeing Sales for First Time

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The new A330neo introduces a new family of Airbus cabins.

After five decades as the best selling narrow-body commercial airliner in the world, the Boeing 737 yielded the title in October to the Airbus A320.

Mobile, Alabama is the U.S. location for assembly of A320s by Toulouse, France-based Airbus.

According to figures just released by the two air giants for the month of October, Airbus took orders for 15,193 of its A320s and Seattle-based Boeing reported 15,136 orders for its 737.

No one is proclaiming “The king is dead, long live the king!” The two companies will continue to operate as one of the world’s best examples of a duopoly — glad to have a worthy rival in the international game of supply and demand.

But bragging rights, for those counting, went to Airbus this month.

The Airbus A320 was introduced 30 years ago as a rival to the 737. Both planes feature six-abreast seating. The 737 is a little wider in seating space, but the A320 is a little more fuel efficient and less noisy.

In recent years, Airbus introduced a new engine option version of the A320, dubbed the A320neo, which has been popular with a growing market segment of low-cost, start-up airlines. To catch up, Boeing rushed to introduce a competing product, the 737MAX.

Two crashes of the fledgling 737MAX in 2018 and early 2019 led to the grounding of the plane in the U.S., following many other countries. Boeing’s stock has taken a beating in the last six months. The company says the MAX will regain flying rights in January 2020.

The Airbus plant in Mobile, besides the A320 family of aircraft, also recently started assembling the new Airbus A220 line of aircraft.

Spirit Airlines Signs on for 100 Airbus Neo Planes

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Spirit Airlines plans purchase of up to 100 fuel-efficient Airbus planes. Photo courtesy of Airbus

Spirit Airlines and Airbus have signed a memorandum of understanding for the Florida-based carrier to purchase up to 100 A320 neo-family aircraft.

The planes will be a mix of A319, A320 and A321 craft, all in the fuel-efficient neo version.

Spirit purchased an A321 in September 2016, the tenth plane delivered from the Airbus final assembly line in Mobile, and in 2017 the first Mobile-built A320.

“This new order represents another milestone for Spirit,” said Ted Christie, president and CEO of Spirit, an ultra-low-cost carrier based in South Florida. “The additional aircraft will be used to support Spirit’s growth as we add new destinations and expand our network across the U.S., Latin American, and the Caribbean.”

“The Airbus A320 family has been a strong platform for the remarkable success of Spirit over the past several years,” said Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer. “We look forward to playing a part in the Spirit team’s continued growth for many, many years to come.”

The Airbus neo — or new engine option — versions use new generation engines and Sharklets — the Airbus terms for up-curved wingtips — to cut fuel burn by about 20 percent and noise by about half, compared to previous generation aircraft.

As of the end of September, Airbus has more than 6,650 firm orders for A320 neo family aircraft from about 110 customers worldwide.

The Daily Beast: How Boeing Tried to Kill a Great Airplane—and Got Outplayed

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Home of Airbus’s U.S. production of the A220, in Mobile, Alabama

On Oct. 8, The Daily Beast published a detailed account that says Airbus’s A220 — now rolling off a new production line in Mobile — beat Boeing at innovation and led Boeing to make disastrous blunders with its 737-MAX.

Airbus began manufacturing the A220 jetliner in the U.S. in August, at the company’s second airliner production line in Mobile. The first line in Mobile produces larger, A320 jets.

The following excerpt is from the Daily Beast story:

The C Series brought another advantage. Unlike Boeing’s 737, its cockpit had state of the art fly-by-wire flight controls that made it compatible with the rest of the Airbus jets, giving it an appeal to the many airlines already flying them.

To ram home just how much Airbus was now able to out-game Boeing, they said they would build a final assembly line for the C Series in Alabama for those sold to American Airlines, thereby removing the vulnerability to tariffs.

Airbus rebranded the jet as the A220 and in February this year Delta began flying the first of a planned fleet of A220s on U.S. routes. Jet Blue has followed by ordering 60 A220s that, they say, are 40 percent more efficient to operate than the Embraers they replace. There are now more than 500 A220s on order.

The founder of Jet Blue, David Neeleman, who left the airline in 2007, is so enamored of the A220 that he is planning a new airline based on it. As with Jet Blue, this airline could be a disruptor: Neeleman is talking to Airbus about a long-range version that would open up entirely new routes between the U.S. and Europe and the U.S. and South America to serve smaller cities that don’t generate enough traffic for big jets but could be efficiently served only by the A220.

Read the full story here in the Daily Beast

Second Airbus Model Now in Production in Mobile

Work began today in Mobile on the first U.S.-built Airbus 220 model.

Designed specifically for the 100- to 150-seat market, the plane was developed by Bombardier in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada, before joining the Airbus product lineup. Airbus also assembles A320 family aircraft in Mobile.

Workers from Alabama trained in Mirabel before returning to Mobile to start A220 assembly here.

“It’s exciting to see the start of production on the A220 in Mobile,” said Paul Gaskell, president of Airbus U.S. A220 Inc. “The production team has been training alongside their colleagues in Mirabel, and have returned ready to put their knowledge to work. We look forward to all of the milestones along the way to a successful delivery to the customer next year.”

The first plane from the Mobile line is slated for delivery to Delta Air Lines in the third quarter of 2020.

The A220 was designed for fuel efficiency achieved through specialized materials, aerodynamic design and Pratt & Whitney’s newest PW1500G geared turbofan engines, which combine to reduce fuel use by 20 percent.

As of June, 551 of the new aircraft are on order and the company says, “the A220 has all the credentials to win the lion’s share of the 100- to 150-seat aircraft market, estimated to represent 7,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.

“The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line — with 400 additional jobs to support it — further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer, and confirms without a doubt that Airbus is an important part of America’s manufacturing landscape,” said Airbus Americas Chairman & CEO C. Jeffrey Knittel.

Beyond its two final assembly lines in Mobile, the European-based Airbus has engineering centers in Mobile and Kansas, training facilities in Florida and Colorado, materials support and headquarters in Virginia, a think tank in California, a drone data analysis business in Georgia, helicopter facilities in Texas and Mississippi and a satellite manufacturing facility in Florida.

Alabama Aviation Rides High in Paris

The first shipment of components for the new Airbus A220 — an aft fuselage and cockpit — arrived at the Airbus plant in Mobile Thursday. Assembly of the first Mobile-built A220 is slated to begin within the next couple of months. Airbus is building a second final assembly line for the A220, next door to its A320 line at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Photo courtesy of Airbus

Springtime in Paris brought a bounty of aviation news to Alabama. Government officials at the Paris Air Show this week brought home news of new and expanding aviation and aerospace suppliers, while north Alabama’s Boeing and south Alabama’s Airbus notched up aircraft sales.

To cap off the week, the first major components for Airbus’ new A220 final assembly line arrived in the Port City on Thursday.

Airbus, which has an A320 final assembly line in Mobile and is building an A220 line next door, announced sales of its brand new A321XLR — 50 to American Airlines and 32 to Indigo Partners, followed by sales of varieties of its 320 neo option (one of the products of the Mobile plant) to JetBlue, China Airlines, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and others. In total, the company signed agreements for 595 airplanes.

Boeing, which has a major space presence in north Alabama but builds its commercial jets in Washington and South Carolina, has been in an aircraft sales drought since March, when its 737 Max was grounded. But the U.S. company announced the sale of 30 787 Dreamliner aircraft to Korean Air — with a list price of $6.3 billion — and then a sale of 200 of its 737 Max planes to UK-based International Airlines Group (IAG), with several other smaller orders, for a total of some 234 planes.

Moreover, during the Air Show, Airbus and Lockheed Martin affirmed their interested in pursuing the U.S. Air Force refueling tanker contract. Airbus first talked about building planes in Alabama in pursuit of the tanker contract with partner Northrop Grumman in 2011; when that deal fell through, the European aviation giant built a commercial jet assembly line here instead.

At the state level, Gov. Kay Ivey and her team met with executives from the world’s biggest aerospace firms — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies and more — discussing four potential projects and five existing ones that could bring 1,600 or more jobs to Alabama’s burgeoning aviation and aerospace sector.

Mobile’s Economy is on the Move

Past meets present in downtown Mobile where the RSA-towered skyline lofts above the Fort of Colonial Mobile, with roots some 300 years old. Photo courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department/Chris Granger

For centuries, Mobile County has been Alabama’s connection with world commerce. Increasingly, its economy is based on moving things in and out.

Airplanes arrive in pieces and fly out as fully assembled jets. Lately, aerospace developments involving Airbus have been making the most business news, but shipbuilding remains strong as does manufacturing.

Items that will line the shelves of some 800 Walmart stores are shipped to a new regional distribution center to go on to other distribution centers. Cargo of all kinds comes and goes via water, railroad and truck. Jobs multiply to keep everything moving. From steel mills to beaches, the Mobile County economy is diverse, and it’s international.

The Mobile County Public School System remains the county’s largest employer, with 7,500 workers. The University of South Alabama, with its medical school and expanding health care system, is in second place with 6,000 workers. And Infirmary Health — with its flagship Mobile Infirmary in the city — remains the largest non-governmental health system in Alabama.

The single biggest economic development has to be Airbus, not only because of a second final assembly plant for the A220 jet that is under construction next door to the original A320 series plant, but because even more suppliers and other associated business are coming in, creating even more new jobs. It’s all happening even faster than Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, had hoped.

“The main thing is that in aviation aerospace in particular, that sector is probably going to grow faster, fill out more quickly than we had anticipated,” Sisson says. “What’s also good news is that both of those aircraft, the 320 line and the 220, are very hot-selling aircraft. For them to be here in Mobile, that just bodes well.”

The county also is seeing growth in shipping, shipbuilding, steel manufacturing, distribution facilities, construction, business incubation and health care, among other sectors.

“That’s the beauty of our economy here, it’s so diverse,” says Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson. “We’re seeing some steady growth across the board in all sectors of our economy. Even when one should dip, the others aren’t.”

Local and state governments, along with the Chamber of Commerce, have established a record of working together in economic development over the last 20 years, regardless of politics or who occupied what public office.

“I think we are all like-minded when it comes to successfully recruiting business and industry to the state and particularly here in Mobile,” Hudson says.

Sisson says Mobile is the right size to present a united front in recruiting new businesses, and the considerably lower cost of living is a major factor. “When a business prospect is looking at this area, all the partners are at the table extending help,” he says.

What happens next? More aerospace, more transportation, more port-related development and more business incubation, Sisson says. “We’re seeing more and more distribution activity related to the container terminal. That’s certainly very promising and that’s happening simultaneously with what’s going on in the aviation-aerospace sector.”

The chamber will be moving into talent development and recruiting for the labor force, as well as for new business, he says. A recent chamber-commissioned study of the labor force revealed that 5,000 new, high-paying jobs had been created in the area in the last four years.

Mobile City Council Vice President Levon Manzie cites Airbus, Austal USA’s contracts for the U.S. Navy and Continental Aerospace’s new facility in saying, “The sky’s the limit.” But he’s especially excited about the new Mobile Downtown Airport at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, where Frontier Airlines has begun passenger jet service to Chicago and Denver.

“The eventual movement of the airport to Brookley Field Complex is going to be big for the city of Mobile,” Manzie says. “Eventually you’ll see all the airlines follow suit, and they’ll build out the total complex.

“I believe the next 10 years will be game-changing years for the city of Mobile.”

Jane Nicholes is a Daphne-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

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