The first U.S.-produced aircraft by European aircraft maker Airbus has taken its maiden flight from Mobile, Ala. Monday and is destined for delivery to JetBlue.
The A321 is the first produced in the U.S. since the company’s final assembly plant went online six months ago. After flying over the Gulf of Mexico for nearly four hours, the twin-engine passenger airliner landed at the Brookley Aeroplex outside downtown Mobile.
“We’ve come to an exciting milestone in the production of any aircraft, but this one is particularly special,” said Daryl Taylor, the Airbus U.S. facility’s vice-president and general manager. “We’re creating a new center of commercial aircraft production in the U.S. This is just the first of many aircraft to come.”
Gov. Robert Bentley said the historic flight symbolizes a new chapter of prosperity for the Gulf Coast’s aerospace industry.
“Aerospace and aviation industries are extremely important to Alabama, and it is exciting to know soon JetBlue will receive its first A321 proudly made In Alabama,” Bentley said.
With its first flight in the books, the A321 will undergo several more weeks of final production before being sent into service with JetBlue. The second A321 will be sent to American Airlines soon afterwards.
Hundreds of Airbus employees, members of the public, along with industry and government officials watched from the Mobile Aeroplex as the aircraft made its takeoff.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, along with several other officials in attendance, praised the occasion in the wake of challenges that stood in the way of getting to the historic flight.
“Airbus gives all Mobilians something that we can be very, very proud about,” Stimpson said. “To Airbus, to its workers, and to others who’d supported the campaign to bring the plant to Mobile — how many people do we really have to thank?”
For several years, the future of aircraft production in Mobile was in flux, as a controversial U.S. Air Force decision to award the next generation tanker contract was awarded to competitor aircraft manufacturer Boeing, based in Washington state.
“It’s fair to say [the dream] turned into a nightmare for a little while, during the tanker program,” said Mobile Airport Authority Executive Director Roger Wehner.
Airbus initially planned for the smaller A320 to be produced in Mobile, but opted for the larger option in 2014. The 53-acre site was once home to Brookley Air Force Base before closing in the 1960s, putting tens of thousands out of work in Mobile and along the Gulf Coast. With the new facility ramping up to full production capacity, the company hopes to produce between 40 and 50 aircraft annually at the $600 million plant by 2018. State and local governments provided more than $158 million in incentives for the factory, which will eventually employ about 1,000 people.