Paris: Weeks before the first China-built Airbus rolls off the assembly line near Beijing, the European planemaker’s top official has pulled out the map and targeted future jetliner production in the United States and India.
Airbus chief executive Tom Enders, writing 40 years after the birth of the first plane project by a four-nation European consortium, said Airbus must become global to stay competitive.
“We have to leave national sentiment behind us,” Enders wrote in a column in Friday’s edition of the Financial Times.
“Airbus will only remain competitive in the long term if it develops resources and markets globally and becomes a genuinely international company, with development and production also in the US, China, India and elsewhere.”
Airbus agreed in 2006 to set up an assembly line for the A320 family of jets, its most popular model, at Tianjin in China to reduce costs and gain an edge over rival Boeing in one of the world’s largest aviation markets.
The first plane will be delivered by end-June, the first time an Airbus has been assembled outside its two main host countries, France and Germany, supported by Britain and Spain.
India has pressed Airbus to consider opening a production line there also, but so far the European company has been tied up in domestic restructuring and a series of aircraft production delays, as well as fierce union opposition to offshoring jobs.
When India’s civil aviation minister floated the idea of an Indian assembly line at an Airbus ceremony at the Paris air show two years ago, Airbus officials cautiously welcomed the concept but said the costs might outweigh the benefits.
The economic crisis has since threatened planemakers’ orders.
In the United States, Airbus considered assembling freighters in Alabama as part of a deal to sell mid-air refuelling tankers built from the same fuselages to the Pentagon. But the plans were suspended when Boeing appealed against the contract.
US production is attractive to firms whose costs are in euros but whose products, like aircraft, are priced in dollars.
Unions and politicians in Europe, however, are concerned about job losses.
Writing days before European parliamentary elections, Enders said shutting trade borders was no fix to the economic crisis.
“Next month in Tianjin we shall deliver the first Airbus made in China ... No one will benefit more from this than Europeans.”
He also blamed European governments for hobbling Airbus’s first major military project, the A400M airlifter, with a wish list for customisation that only added to production delays. The four-year setback has usually been blamed on engine problems.
“Too often there has been a reversion to defending diverse national requirements that offer little in terms of performance but impact significantly on cost and deliverability,” he said.
“That certainly has been the case with the A400M, and we have asked the European partners in the programme for a greater degree of realism in order to enable delivery of the aircraft we all want at a sensible price.”
Parent EADS is trying to negotiate contract changes to rescue the 20 billion euro project by an end-June deadline.