The giant European plane maker Airbus has announced it is setting up its first ever factory in the United States, home of its greatest rival Boeing.
Work on the half-a-billion euro plant in Alabama is scheduled to start next year, with the production lines rolling by 2015, and the first aircraft delivered the year after.
Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier said: “While other companies, even in America, in the aerospace business, are laying off, we hired four thousand people last year, and we’ll do the same again this year. We go where the talent is.”
The United States is the heart of the world’s biggest market for that kind of medium range aircraft.
Producing up to 50 A320s a year in the US will help Airbus in terms of exchange rates. Previously it has suffered from being paid for its planes in dollars while buying the material to build them and mostly paying wages with the strong euro.
If US rival Boeing was worried it did not show it. Hours after the Airbus announcement it beefed up its forecast for sales over the next 20 years, citing growth in Asia and airlines replacing their planes with new more fuel efficient ones.
Many airlines are facing tough conditions as consumers and businesses in austerity-hit regions cut back on travel, while high fuel prices are hitting profits.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the forecast reflects the economic struggles we see today in some of the mature markets,” Randy Tinseth, vice president marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told a media briefing in London.
The forecast did not take into account a possible collapse of the euro or the exit of any euro member, Tinseth said.
“We’re looking at a world economy, where, especially over the next few years, we slog through the situation here in Europe and then once you get into the 2014 time frame and beyond, you see more normal economic growth.”
Boeing and Airbus are locked in the biggest ever dispute at the World Trade Organisation, each accusing the other of receiving billions of dollars, or euros, in illegal subsidies.