States line up to hear Airbus pitch for possible U.S. factory

Wednesday, February 16th 2005, 9:09 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A pitch by European aircraft maker Airbus for a $600 million U.S. factory drew representatives from 35 states Tuesday _ including at least nine with ties to archrival Boeing Co.

Officials from Washington state _ where Boeing assembles 737s, 747s, 767s and 777s _ were among those attending the informational session hosted by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., parent company of Airbus.

France-based EADS, has said it plans to select a U.S. manufacturing site within a year, with hopes of building a refueling tanker to compete with the Boeing 767 for a multibillion dollar Air Force contract to replace the aging fleet of Boeing-built KC-135 tankers.

Representatives from Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas also attended, EADS officials said. All nine states have Boeing operations.

Other states interested in the Airbus factory include North Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma and New Mexico, according to EADS officials.

Congress last year nullified a potential $23 billion deal with Boeing amid a growing ethics scandal that has led to guilty pleas by two top Boeing executives. The Pentagon is expected to reopen the deal to competition later this year.

About 135 people attended the informational session Tuesday at a Capitol Hill hotel, EADS officials said.

``We felt we got a very, very positive response,'' said Ralph Crosby, chairman and chief executive officer of EADS North America.

Crosby called the meeting the first step in a process that should result in selection of a potential U.S. site within a year. States interested in bidding on the Airbus factory were given a March 31 deadline to submit a general plan for where the factory would be located and what advantages the site would offer, Crosby said.

EADS has asked states to select up to three sites that would be capable of providing the work force, transportation options and resources needed for a site to assemble the tanker, which would be based on the Airbus A330 passenger jet.

EADS officials have said their site requirements include a minimum 9,000-foot runway, space for a 1.5 million-square-foot building, an experienced work force and access to both a deep water port and a university with a strong aerospace engineering program. Initially, EADS would build a center that would employ 100 to 150 engineers. If the company won the contract, it would then build the factory, which could employ as many as 1,100 people.

``What's clear to us is any tanker for the United States Air Force needs to be built in the United States,'' Crosby said.

Chicago-based Boeing has made exactly that argument as it pursues the tanker deal in what is expected to be a fierce competition. Under Boeing's plan, the planes would be built in Everett, Wash., and modified for military use in Wichita, Kan.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and other Washington lawmakers have denounced the EADS plan for a U.S. factory as a ``slick campaign'' to build political support for its effort to win the tanker contract.

``It's a ploy to capture American tax dollars for a French company and French jobs,'' said Alex Glass, a spokeswoman for Murray. ``We think the tankers are going to be built in the United States and be built by Boeing.''