Airbus Outlines Expansion Plans

July 5, 2022
When Airbus confirmed its intention to build a third aircraft assembly line in Mobile, it was obviously a big deal. But just how big, in terms of what will be constructed and how quickly it will rise, is only now beginning to emerge.

When Airbus confirmed its intention to build a third aircraft assembly line in Mobile, it was obviously a big deal. But just how big, in terms of what will be constructed and how quickly it will rise, is only now beginning to emerge.

Note: This story first appeared June 27 in The Lede, a digital news publication delivered to our subscribers every morning. Go here to subscribe.

“This thing is coming really fast,” Stewart Nobles of project management company HPM told a roomful of contractors and other interested parties at a recent town hall meeting for contractors. Nobles, a senior project manager who’s overseeing the Airbus expansion, was one of several HPM executives who spoke at the session. It was the first of three. The last comes Thursday, June 30.

“The mission tonight is simple,” said Jay Daily, VP of business development for HPM. “We want to ensure awareness of upcoming work. We also want to engage all community partners. We are trying to maximize local participation, as we have in the past.”

The town hall sessions are designed for leaders of business that want a piece of the work. But they contained some impressive details about the scope of the expansion.

Airbus isn’t just building a new Final Assembly Line (FAL) alongside the two it has now. Nobles gave an overview of a provisional seven-piece “packaging strategy” that details how the new work will fit into the existing campus at the Brookley Aeroplex. Each package represents a substantial contract. They are:

  • A new hangar that can hold four A320-family jets. Nobles said this “finishing hangar” will enclose 200,000 square feet of space.
  • Work on a utility corridor. “We’ve got a utility corridor that runs through future infrastructure, future building pads,” said Nobles. “We’ve got to relocate that utility corridor.”
  • The current paint shop can handle two jetliners at a time. It’ll be getting two additional bays, doubling its capacity. Nobles said this step, like some of the others, is designed to eliminate bottlenecks as the number of jets being produced in Mobile continues to increase. It’ll involve “heavy mechanical systems” due to specialized ventilation and air conditioning requirements.
  • The construction of a powerhouse that will route utilities to the various Airbus operations. There is one, but it’s reaching its capacity and its once-peripheral location has become a problem. “Over time, 10 years, now it’s in the way,” Nobles said. “We’ve got to move it.”
  • An A220 hangar that can hold four jets. “It’s not just a hangar for parking aircraft. This is part of the manufacturing flow line,” said Nobles. As such, he said, it’ll have very complex electrical and climate systems.
  • An expansion of the delivery center, the terminal-like building where aircraft are stationed as their owners conduct final checks and take delivery.
  • A general package of site and infrastructure work, much of it focused on employee safety. Nobles said that more employees means a need for more parking, but it also means a greater need to separate pedestrian traffic and industrial traffic as both increase within the Airbus site. Features will include sidewalks, canopies, railings and other features to reduce potentially dangerous interactions.

The A220 hangar in particular illustrates that Airbus isn’t just tacking on another FAL in Mobile as part of its global strategy to increase A320-family production to record levels. The company is beefing up its entire operation in Mobile, setting the stage for growth across the board.

That said, the global increase in A320 production clearly is the driving force. Top company leaders have envisioned hitting a production rate of 75 A320-family jets per month in 2025. (That’s spread across FALs in France, Germany and China, as well as Mobile.)

“Each one of [the packages] has a very specific purpose to enable that increase in airplane output,” Nobles said. “Airbus is committed to delivering these aircraft, which sort of sets our dates. If we don’t make these dates, they start missing deliveries and we’ve all got problems.”

According to a slide shown during the presentation, the goal is to have the utility work done in spring 2023 and the first half of the A320 hangar operational at the beginning of 2024. The rest comes online in a relative flurry between May and September 2024.

“This schedule, although it looks like it’s all the way out into the middle of 2024, the procurement activity for each one of these buildings is going to happen here in the late summer and into the fall,” Nobles said.

That in turn explains why HPM officials were putting a heavy emphasis on their registration process for contractors at all levels.

“If you’re not in the system, you will miss the bus,” said Daily. “You’ve got to be in the system.”

An Airbus Vendor Interest Form can be found via a link at Among other things, it allows companies what kind of work they’re interested in and what their capacities are. Ivy Mitchell, one of HPM’s procurement leaders on the project, said that the goal is to pair up contractors large and small to work in teams on the projects.

Daily said that in order to be successful in the project, participants must understand the “design-build” approach and must have relationships.

“If you don’t have relationships with general contractors, you are not going to be successful here,” he said. “That’s one of the things with the registration. We’re trying to everything we can to connect you with the people involved with the packages.”

“Be realistic with the size of work that you can manage,” he added. “There’s partnership opportunities galore out there. Be a good partner, at the end of the day.”

“The effort is to encourage as much local participation as possible,” said Andi Sims, HPM’s VP of marketing. “That’s important to Airbus. It’s important to us. But then at the end of the day our job also, and what Airbus has charged us with, is to make it competitive.”

“At the end of the day we’re trying to make everybody successful,” she said.

The final town hall meeting in the series takes place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30, in the University of South Alabama MacQueen Alumni Center, 100 Alumni Drive on the USA main campus.

Parties involved in the town halls include the Mobile Chamber, the Mobile Area Black Chamber of Commerce, the city of Mobile, Mobile County, the Mobile Section of the Associated General Contractors of America, the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance and HPM.

Companies interested in attending should RSVP to Ivy Mitchell, [email protected].

Airbus has not yet revealed an estimate of how much it expects to spend on the expansion. Executives have said it could create up to 1,000 new jobs.

Lawrence Specker reports from Mobile for

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