AIRBUS AND ALABAMA: 'Almost married'

AIRBUS AND ALABAMA: 'Almost married' Editor's note: This story, which appeared on the cover of The New York Times business section Tuesday, offers an example of the national interest in efforts by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co...


AIRBUS AND ALABAMA: 'Almost married'

Editor's note: This story, which appeared on the cover of The New York Times business section Tuesday, offers an example of the national interest in efforts by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. to grab a share of U.S. defense spending. Central to that plan is the competition between a Northrop Grumman Corp./EADS team and Chicago-based Boeing Co, to build aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force. The Northrop team would build the tankers in Mobile.

By LESLIE WAYNE

New York Times

PARIS - Louis Gallois, the co-chief executive of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, could have his pick of invitations among dozens of parties thrown during the Paris Air Show, the giant industry gathering this week.

But on Saturday night, Gallois went to pay his respects at a gathering held by members of the Mobile City Council of Alabama and the Mobile Airport Authority.

"We are linked to Alabama," said Gallois, the lone French accent in a room full of Southern twangs, including state legislators and Alabama's two senators. "We are almost married."

The reason for Gallois' charm offensive? The troubled European aerospace and military giant wants to land a $40-billion contract to provide 179 aerial refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force.

It is one of the biggest Pentagon contracts in decades, and EADS is counting on the political clout of Alabama officials, who are hoping to get an Airbus factory in their state, to help the company in Washington.

It is not easy being a foreign company seeking more Pentagon business, especially when the competition is the archrival Boeing, America's second-largest military supplier and a skilled Washington hand.

Yet to EADS, expanding its military activities in the United States is increasingly important, especially since last year's profits in its military and space business were nearly offset by losses in its troubled Airbus commercial aviation division.

To have a chance at the tanker contract, Airbus must overcome any "Buy American" sentiment in Congress. So EADS has cast its lot with Alabama politicians, as well as politicians in nearby Mississippi and Florida.

"All I ask, is that EADS be treated fairly and that the tanker decision is based on merit," said Gov. Bob Riley, who acted as a master of ceremonies at the reception Saturday night. "Don't give demerits to this company because they are associated with a French plane."

EADS already has an engineering site in Mobile, and if it wins the tanker contract it has promised to build a final assembly plant there, creating at least 1,500 jobs.

Later this year, the Pentagon will announce its choice. Most analysts expect it will be a "winner take all" victory, and so lobbying by both companies is in full swing.

Boeing officials have been meeting regularly with members of Congress and their staff members, and proclaiming that their tanker work, if they win the contract, would be spread over 40 states.

But Alabama is backing EADS. That is why state officials chartered a Boeing 757 outfitted with first-class seats - an Airbus plane was not available to fit the schedule - to fly 15 members of Congress and their staff from New York to Toulouse, France, last week for a tour of the huge plant that makes the Airbus A330, the plane that would be modified for use as a tanker.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, who traveled to Toulouse, was impressed.

"I took one look at that facility and it made you think, wouldn't it be nice to have this in Alabama," Sessions said at the reception. "Airbus pointed out all the spinoffs and suppliers in Toulouse, too. I've never seen the Mobile crowd more excited about a project."

Clearly, the trip had its intended effect on Sessions, who said: "Airbus has done a good job of winning the hearts and minds of the people of Alabama. "

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