Airbus begins US-based production of A220, but is there a demand?
Airbus announced on August 5, 2019, that the first team of A220 production workforce have begun work at its Mobile, Alabama, facility, marking the official start of manufacturing of the aircraft in the U.S. By the middle of the next decade, the site targets to produce between 40 and 50 A220s annually to satisfy growing demand for the jetliner from U.S.-based customers.
By adding its A220 (former Bombardier C Series) aircraft to the production lineup at the Mobile site, Airbus has passed a key milestone in its growth plans in the U.S.
“The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line – with 400 additional jobs to support it […] confirms without a doubt that Airbus is an important part of America’s manufacturing landscape,” said Airbus Americas Chairman & CEO C. Jeffrey Knittel in an official press release.
The new assembly line is the company’s second U.S. based commercial aircraft production facility, next to the existing A320 assembly line that opened in 2015. The site is located at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley industrial park.
Facilities for the A220 required a $300 million investment, in addition to the $300 million poured into the establishment of A320 assembly line. Currently, for A220 production only, Airbus employs more than 140 staff at the Mobile site, bringing the total to over 800 employees, a spokesperson for Airbus told AeroTime via email.
The construction of the A220 manufacturing facility began in January 2019, and while works continue, the first few A220 jets are being produced within some current A320 Family buildings and newly-built support hangars. The new facilities are expected to be fully operational by 2020.
How big is A220 demand in the U.S.?
In October 2018, Delta Air Lines became the first airline in the U.S. (and the first North American operator) to take delivery of the A220 jetliner, an A220-100, at Mirabel, Québec (Canada) plant, which is the primary final assembly line for the program. The carrier will take delivery of the first Mobile, U.S.-assembled A220 jet – the larger A220-300 – scheduled for the third quarter of 2020.
Delta has been the driving force behind the A220 program in the U.S. and is the largest customer of the aircraft. The airline has 18 A220-100s in its fleet and is awaiting delivery of another 27 of these jets, as well as 50 A220-300s, Airbus order and delivery book through June 2019 shows.
According to the plane maker, its Mobile facility should produce 40 to 50 A220 aircraft per year by the middle of the next decade. However, the “growing demand” for the jetliner in the U.S. (and globally), as Airbus states, seems to be moving slowly.
As of November 30, 2018, Airbus held a total of 402 worldwide orders for the A220 – all inherited from Bombardier, after Airbus acquired the program from the Canadian manufacturer in July 2018.
In December 2018, Airbus firmed up orders for 120 A220s meant to go to U.S. carriers. JetBlue Airways and start up Moxy ordered 60 A220-300s each. This marked the first time that the European plane maker closed A220 deals on its own.
Nevertheless, the company has high hopes for the future of its product: “With an order book of more than 500 aircraft to date, the A220 has all the credentials to win the lion’s share of the 100- to 150-seat aircraft market estimated to represent at least 7,000 aircraft over the next 20 years,” the company noted in a statement in January 2019.
As for the U.S. market, Delta’s 18 A220-100s are the only A220 Family jets currently in operation there; the airline being the only carrier that has ordered the variant in North America. The A220-300, on the other hand, has so far gathered a total of 215 orders by operators in the continent, but is not being flown by any airline there yet.
Since the end of November 2018, worldwide orders for the A220s have grown from 402 to 551. Despite the slow climb, the jetliner’s significance in North America is clear, as over half of these current orders – 310 – are destined for airlines in the continent.
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