Airbus Plant Headed For Alabama

The parent company of European aircraft maker Airbus, seeking to better compete with Boeing for a lucrative Air Force contract to build military refueling tankers, announced Wednesday it has selected Mobile, Ala., over three other Southern sites for a $600 million factory.

The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. selected the Alabama site over three rival bids from Melbourne, Fla., Kiln, Miss., and North Charleston, S.C.

Ralph D. Crosby, chairman and CEO of EADS North America, said Mobile was chosen because it is "strategically located" on the Gulf of Mexico, and offers a skilled work force, airport runways and a deep-water port. Brookley Industrial Complex provides 4.5 million square feet of industrial space, and includes access to the Mobile downtown airport.

An Airbus engineering center will be built nearby and is expected to open in 2006, the company said.

The Boeing Co., based in Chicago, lost the tanker deal last year after revelations that it had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who later admitted giving the company preferential treatment.

The deal would have allowed the Air Force to buy or lease 100 Boeing 767 planes for use as KC-330 refueling tankers, but was killed by Congress in last year's defense authorization bill. The Air Force has said it is likely to reopen the deal to competition, although no formal timeline has been set.

Initially, EADS plans an engineering center that would employ 100 to 150 people. If the company wins the tanker contract, it would then team with a U.S. defense contractor - most likely Northrop Grumman - to build the factory, which could employ as many as 1,100 people.

Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, Rep. Jo Bonner and Gov. Bob Riley were on hand for the announcement here.

"This victory catapults Alabama toward a new era of growth in the aerospace and defense industries," Riley said in a statement.

During a recent visit to a proposed site near Charleston International Airport, the head of the company's defense division said the contract would be a boon.

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