Boeing rival Airbus also has ambitions for Southeast US

The Airbus North America Engineering Center in Mobile, Ala. European plane maker Airbus intends to build its first U.S. plant nearby, according ot reports. (AP/Mobile Register/John David Mercer)

The news broke Wednesday, setting the aerospace world abuzz.

After years of negotiation and speculation, Boeing's European archrival, Airbus, plans to build its first U.S. final assembly plant in Mobile, Ala.

According to the New York Times, Airbus could confirm its intentions to make its bestselling A320s in America as early as today.

It would be a major development but it came as “no surprise” to Scott Hamilton, a longtime Seattle-area observer of the duopoly. Airbus's parent company had eyed Mobile (and Charleston) as part of its bid for a military tanker contract Boeing eventually won and the French planemaker would now seem to benefit from a nonunion plant on American soil to compete with Boeing's latest version of its single-aisle star, the 737 MAX.

“And it's part of a hedge against the dollar-euro exchange rate,” Hamilton explained.

The Charleston area probably has a pretty good feeling for what's at play here and what it could mean.

Boeing's decision to put together and deliver 787 Dreamliners in North Charleston is transforming the economy here, with more than 6,000 people working at the company's local factories, and according to Boeing, perhaps four times that many, at area suppliers and vendors, relying on the planemaker for their livelihoods. That multiplier effect is only expected to grow as Boeing South Carolina ramps up and expands.

An Airbus plane-making factory would be a major addition to the Southeast's aerospace community and could accelerate the growth of the region's cluster of suppliers. In addition to Boeing, other industry heavyweights, like Spirit Aerosystems and Honda Aircraft Co. in North Carolina and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. in Savannah, have major presences in the Southeast.

In a statement last week, Boeing acknowledged the speculation by saying an American Airbus plant would not make up for all the American jobs lost because of the European government subsidies Airbus has received.

Boeing may not be rolling out the red carpet for its primary competitor's first final assembly plant on American soil. But the Chicago-based company followed much the same strategy when it picked North Charleston as its nonunion counterbalance to its historic base in the Puget Sound.

And if the supplier network clusters as many expect, both companies could stand to benefit.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.