MOBILE, AL — Just after three years after the groundbreaking of the Airbus In Alabama Brookley Aeroplex Final Assembly Line, the company reached a major milestone today with the delivery of its first ever U.S. built airliner.
The aircraft, an Airbus A321ceo (BluesMobile / N965JT / MSN 6512) was delivered at 10:00 CDT in front of an enthusiastic crowd of Airbus employees, customers and local suppliers and VIPs.
A long journey from Hamburg to Mobile
The story of the first Airbus aircraft built in the U.S. comes from the other side of the pond, when in early June 201 the Main Component Assembly (MCA)—comprised by the fuselage sections and approximately 4,000 parts—were shipped to the United States from Hamburg, Germany.
Such MCA, equivalent to 60% of the aircraft, come from different countries in Europe. The front fuselage is built in France while the aft fuselage section and vertical tail plane are built in Germany.
The remaining 40% corresponds to parts from U.S. suppliers, as well as the engines—CFM and IAE—which are made in the United States as well.
Building the ‘Bama bus
According to Airbus, the final assembly of the first aircraft began in mid-July 2015 when the main fuselage sections were placed in the Transhipment Hangar. There, the MCA is sent to the Final Assembly Line, divided into five work stations.
The first station, known as Station 41, is where the forward and aft sections of the fuselage are joined, and is where internal elements such as monuments and the galleys are also installed.
Station 40 is the second work station at the FAL and is where the wings and the fuselage are joined. At the time when the Final Assembly Line was inaugurated, the wing and fuselage mating works were underway and completed in October 2015. Immediately thereafter, the aircraft was sent to Station 35 where the airplane powers on its own. Vertical and horizontal tail planes are assembled here and the wings are completed.
The aircraft finally entered the Final Phase / Flight Line station, where engines are installed along with final testing before the aircraft returns outside and is sent to the paint shop.
Last October, Airbus announced plans to ramp up the production of the A320 family aircraft before the end of the decade, in a move supported by record numbers of firm orders amid a strong global demand for the type. Airbus expects to increase the rate to 52 planes per month by 2018, supported by its final production lines in Germany, France, China, and the United States.
Get set, ready… fly!
The nearly completed A321 rolled out from the final assembly line on February 24, and was sent to the paint shop to receive the livery of its customer. The paint hangar has an area of 27,700 sq feet (2,574m2) and will be capable of painting all A320 family aircraft–A318, A319, A320 and A321 equipped with Sharklets and NEO options.
The painting was carried out by MAAS Aviation. The company is responsible for painting aircraft in its new facility located on the Airbus premises, from which the aircraft emerged on March 4, ready for its first flight, which took place two weeks later.
The aircraft soared the skies for the first time on March 24, 2016 at 09:36 local. The flight lasted three hours and 26 minutes, during which standard tests were performed on systems, engines and structure. According to the company, the aircraft reached as high as 39,000 ft. (11,887 m.) altitude.
After this maiden flight, the aircraft went through a few more weeks in final production before its delivery.
The delivery event
Finally, the delivery took place today, April 25th, witnessed by the entire team from the Alabama Final Assembly Line (FAL), who marched first, together with the University of South Alabama, chanting Here we go JetBlue, here we go! Before gathering to present the first jetliner rolled out from the Airbus Alabama FAL premises.
On hand for the occasion were executives from Airbus, JetBlue senior management, including its President and CEO Robin Hayes, and invitees from the media and VIPs from the Gulf Coast region.
“You are sitting in the (wooden) Boeing seats in the crowd right now. The Airbus seat is much more comfortable,” joked John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer – Customers. “We never thought we’d see Airbus airplanes being built in the US in my lifetime.”
Airbus announced its commitment to build a single-aisle assembly line in Mobile, Alabama in 2012, and less than one year later, broke ground on the $600 million (U.S.) facility. “40 years ago we started as a customer of the U.S. Industry. We became the largest export customer of the U.S. Aerospace industry. We spent $16 billion in the U.S. with 400 suppliers. Within 10 years, we will be at over $20 billion spend in the U.S.” Leahy noted.
“The plane is called BluesMobile as a living memory of this historic event” said JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes. The executive took a moment to highlight the existing relationship the airline has with Airbus. “We talk a lot about long term partnership. Airbus truly believed in us when we were getting the airline off the ground.”
Hayes also thanked the Airbus team, “You have done an amazing job building an incredible airplane. Every time we touch it, we think of you.” At the end of the ceremony, Leahy presented a present to JetBlue to commemorate the event, an oil painting of BluesMobile soaring the skies.
In addition to the JetBlue A321 delivered today, there are currently nine other A320 Family aircraft in production at the facility. Eight of these will be delivered to American Airlines and one to Spirit Airlines. All will be A321s.
Airbus anticipates delivering four aircraft per month from the Mobile plant by the end of 2017. The initial deliveries will be A320 Family aircraft with the Current Engine Option (CEO), but will begin transitioning to New Engine Option (NEO) derivatives in late 2017.
‘Without Airbus, JetBlue wouldn’t be JetBlue’
“Today is aviation history. April 25, 2016 is a day that only happens once when the first U.S. Built Airbus.” commented Jeff Martin, EVP Operations, JetBlue, “JetBlue received the honor of being the first US delivery customer in large part to the partnership dating back to the beginning.”
Martin recalled how the relationship between both companies has grown throughout the years. “Today we take delivery of our 29th A321, of which 13 are ‘Mint’ configured, and it’s the 130th A320 family aircraft that joins our fleet.”
“The A321 core aircraft has been a success due to its lower seat costs and being a proven platform.” Martin said. He also commented that to date, JetBlue’s A321 fleet has a 98% of dispatch reliability and an averages 15 hours per day of utilization.
About the incorporation of this A321 to the fleet, Martin commented that the FlyFi and IFE installation, which takes place at HAECO in Lake City in Florida, takes approximately 1-2 weeks. Martin expects that in 14 days, the aircraft will enter revenue service. He also announced that the first flight “will start out of Orlando (MCO) or Ft. Lauderdale (FLL).”
Onboard the Delivery Flight
After the ceremony, and once fulfilled the pre-flight formalities, Airways joined 8 passengers and three crew members on board this brand-new aircraft, now identified as JetBlue 6994. The delivery flight was commanded by Captain Rick Smith from Athens, Alabama and the First Officer was Captain Bart Robert, JetBlue’s VP of Flight.
The aircraft was delivered with a 190-seat “Core Configured” layout, equipped with the new B/E Aerospace Pinnacle ergonomic seats. In the recent years, JetBlue has focused on keeping customers connected throughout their flights, with the launch of free gate-to-gate Fly-Fi high-speed Internet, high-definition back-seat screens, and in-seat power outlets with USB ports. All of these features will be offered on this A321.
The flight was a short 54-minute “ramp-to-ramp” hop from Brookley Mobile Aeroplex to Gateway Lake City, Florida Airport.
Upon arrival in Lake City, BluesMobile N965JT was immediately whisked into a HAECO hangar to begin its ingest into the JetBlue fleet.