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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 8, 2012 at 2:16 PM

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The U.S. Gulf Coast celebrates Airbus in London

In the main hall of the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London Sunday evening, under a high ornate ceiling painted by Dutch master Peter Paul Rubens in 1636 to celebrate the union of England and Scotland, the union of four U.S. Gulf states celebrated a grand French coup: the snagging of an Airbus final assembly plant for Mobile, Ala.

The reception on the eve of the Farnborough Air Show, hosted by an alliance of the states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, was a networking and social event, the prelude to a round of business meetings at the Air Show the rest of the week.

The governors of the first three states were present; the fourth sent a representative. Attendees including U.S. senators and congressmen sipped wine and nibbled hors d'oeurves. (The best was a delicate meat popsicle, a cuboid of English beef on a stick.)

On a small stage, a string quartet played tastefully. Toward the end, the crowd thinned as people left to attend the numerous other aerospace receptions and dinners around central London this Sunday evening.

That's when the new chief executive of Airbus, Fabrice Bregier, arrived with his wife Tatiana. He said his welcome in Mobile made him "feel at home."

Mobile, he said is "a perfect fit" for Airbus.

(Above, Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas; his wife, Grace McArtor; Fabrice Bregier, CEO of Airbus; and his wife, Tatiana Bregier. My photo, taken at the reception hosted by four U.S. Gulf Coast states in Banqueting House, Whitehall.)

All at the reception were happy to give their views on Airbus.

Congressman Jo Bonner of Mobile, Ala., said the plan to create an A320 final assembly line in his city has delighted people in the southern U.S., who see aerospace as "a global industry, a very important part of our future." McArtor, Bonner, Bregier.JPG

(Right, Airbus Americas chairman Allan McArtor, Congressman Bonner and Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier at the announcement of the Mobile plant last week. Airbus photo.)

In Alabama, he said, it's anticipated to have an effect akin to that of Mercedes-Benz, which in 1997 opened a plant to build automobiles in Vance, Ala. The state is now in the top five states for auto manufacturing nationwide, said Bonner.

"Fifteen years ago, we didn't make a single car," he said.

Yet Bonner said it's not just an Alabama win, since the Airbus plant will indirectly create jobs in Mississippi and Florida.

"This is really something for the Gulf Coast," Bonner said.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he expects about 1,000 jobs created for people in his state, initially in construction and then at the Airbus plant or at suppliers.

Bryant said the four states had decided to work together to land Airbus, pooling their strengths. The first of those strengths was political influence at a time when Airbus was wooing Congress to win the Air Force tanker contract.

Airbus, he said, had the ability to call on eight U.S. senators and all the congressmen from the four states for support. "As (Airbus parent company EADS) look at it, it's a circle of influence. That's the concept," said Bryant.

The four states also combined to multiply the workforce, research dollars, and supplier network available to Airbus, he said. In addition, they offered cheap electricity and financial incentives to locate there.

Tom Darcy, EADS vice president of Defense and Electronics, said he believes the real benefit to his company will be the change in political perception when it bids for future U.S. military work.

Other countries require industrial off-sets -- part of the work must be performed in their country -- in exchange for big military contracts, Darcy said.

"The U.S. is no different," he said. EADS will benefit because the Airbus move "demonstrates to the Department of Defense the commitment to grow the EADS industrial base in the U.S."

Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, agreed that the Mobile plant will help get future work.

"Once you are an industrial citizen, once you have planted the flag and created industrial jobs in America, it's a springboard to lots of things, whether military or otherwise," McArtor said.

This talk of military contracts of course brings up the stinging loss in 2011 of the tanker contract to Boeing. That intense competition had raised tension between politicians in the Pacific Northwest and their counterparts on the Gulf Coast.

But Congressman Bonner wants to put the tanker behind him. The Mobile commercial jet assembly plant is a perfect salve for that wound.

"We have to move past yesterday and we're looking at tomorrow," said Bonner. "Competition is good. It's the American way."