Airbus looks to increase U.S., Wichita supplier base

October 19, 2011 2:38pm

Original article by Molly McMillin. Click here to view The Wichita Eagle post.

Airbus North America plans to double what it buys from U.S. suppliers over the next 20 years, a top Airbus executive said Tuesday.

That includes a desire to increase its Kansas supply base, said Barry Eccleston, president and CEO of Airbus North America.

There also is strong competition from other states and countries for the work, he said.

Eccleston was the keynote speaker at the Wichita Aero Club luncheon Tuesday at the Wichita Airport Hilton.

Airbus is seeking suppliers with new technology, better quality and lower pricing, Eccleston said.

And “we want to buy it in dollars rather than euros,” Eccleston said.

Some of Airbus’s growth with U.S. suppliers will come by adding work with existing suppliers, and some will come by adding new suppliers to its supply chain, Eccleston said.

Airbus hired David Williams as vice president of procurement in Herndon, Va., and set up a new operation to grow the U.S. supply chain, Eccleston said. Williams’ group will grow from five people to eight by the end of the year.

Williams is the contact for those wanting to be an Airbus supplier, he told the group of aviation professionals at the luncheon. Suppliers may also use a link on the Airbus North America website to begin the process.

Forty percent of what Airbus buys for its aircraft comes from the U.S., he said.

That means its aircraft are as much a U.S. plane as any Boeing aircraft, especially the Boeing 787.

“It’s no longer a home-grown airplane,” Eccleston said. “It’s a global airplane.”

Air travel is growing and with it demand for Airbus and Boeing commercial airplanes, he said.

Historically, the airline business doubles in size every 15 years. That equals demand for an average of 1,400 airliners a year every year for the next 20 years, Eccleston said.

Today, Airbus and Boeing are each delivering about 500 aircraft a year — short of what the world’s airlines will need in the future.

Airbus has 4,216 planes on order from airlines around the world, a number that represents seven to eight years of backlog, Eccleston said.

Eccleston opened his speech a few comments about the U.S. tanker competition.

Boeing and Airbus parent, EADS, competed for a contract to supply the U.S. Air Force with refueling tankers to replace its aging fleet.

Boeing won the contract.

The results came out well for the U.S. taxpayer, “which, by the way, includes me,” said Eccleston, who was born in the United Kingdom but is now a U.S. citizen.

“Airbus was proud to compete,” he said.

But the company was disappointed to hear what he called some unfounded comments about Airbus made by members of the Kansas congressional delegation, who were Boeing supporters.

Eccleston came under a lot of pressure from Airbus executives overseas who asked, “Why are we in Wichita?” Eccleston said.

“Happily, cooler heads prevailed,” he said.

The company is happy with its Wichita work force _ nearly 300 engineers who perform work on every Airbus airplane in production and on future aircraft.

“Why Wichita? It’s where the engineers are,” he said. “The work that comes out of Wichita is some of the best anywhere.”

Wichita engineers work primarily on wing design, although more recently they’ve taken on work on repairs and fuselage design.

Airbus is a good corporate citizen in Wichita, he said.

And it works to help develop new engineers by supporting programs that encourage interest in the engineering field.

“We need to make sure it’s where the good engineers continue to be,” Eccleston said.