WASHINGTON – The parent company of European aircraft maker Airbus (search) has selected Mobile, Ala., over three other Southern sites for a $600 million tanker refueling factory, The Associated Press has learned.
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (search) selected the Alabama site over three rival bids from Melbourne, Fla.; Kiln, Miss.; and North Charleston, S.C., a congressional source and an Alabama source familiar with the industry recruiting project said Tuesday.
The decision was to be announced Wednesday at a news conference in Washington. The sources would not speak for attribution because they did not want to trump the formal announcement by EADS North America.
Officials at the company did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
But during a recent visit to a proposed site near Charleston International Airport, the head of the company's defense division said the contract would be a boon. If the company gets part of a military contract to manufacture KC-330 tankers (search), the winning community could land as many as 1,000 jobs.
"You're bringing in a whole bunch of top-level jobs. It was our opinion we did not want it to appear as if we cut some deal," said David Oliver Jr., chief executive for EADS North American Defense.
The immensely public search gave EADS some much-needed positive spin at a time when the U.S. and the European Union are engaged in a trade battle over the EU's subsidies to Airbus, which the U.S. claims gives it an unfair advantage over its chief rival, Chicago-based Boeing Co.
EADS hopes to get a substantial portion of an expected $9 billion in new spending for military tanker planes, but congressional leaders are trying to tie the subsidy debate to the contract decision.
"My only guess is the openness is political," said Charles Hill, a professor at the University of Washington School of Business who closely follows the aeronautics industry.
"They are trying to send a message," he said. "Their strategy is to have quite a bit of work done in the United States. It is clear they want to be seen as a global organization, not just a European one."
Earlier this month in Paris, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and two members of the state's congressional delegation met with company executives to make their case. Riley dined with EADS North America Chief Executive Ralph Crosby, David Oliver, head of the company's defense division, and their wives, along with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, both Mobile Republicans, the Mobile Register reported in a story Sunday.
EADS and subsidiaries already have facilities in Mississippi and Alabama. EADS-owned American Eurocopter LLC opened a helicopter factory in Columbus, Miss., last year, and EADS North America this year invested in a new support center for Coast Guard patrol aircraft in Mobile near the proposed site for the tanker factory.