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Airbus, Lockheed Martin announce joint bid to build tanker planes in Mobile

Airbus and Lockheed Martin on Monday, January 31, 2022, unveiled this rendering of the LMXT...
Airbus and Lockheed Martin on Monday, January 31, 2022, unveiled this rendering of the LMXT refueling tanker. If the companies win a military contract, the plane would be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, and create hundreds of local jobs.(Brendan Kirby/FOX10 News)
Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 11:55 AM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Airbus and Lockheed Martin on Monday announced a joint bid to build U.S, military refueling tanker plans in the Port City, a project that would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs locally.

The project would be a bonanza for the local economy – but it all hinges on the companies winning the contract for the U.S. military.

Leaders of both companies and an array of elected officials, though, treated the project Monday like it’s a done deal. James Knittel, chairman and chief executive officer of Airbus Americas, talked about the company’s ties to various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“One service branch is still without an Airbus airplane and soon to be a Lockheed airplane,” he said. “And that is the Air Force. The LMXT is going to change all that. The world’s best tanker built for the world’s best Air Force right here in Mobile.”

Under the plan developed by the two companies, an even larger number of newly hired workers in Marietta, Georgia, would perform the integration work. And then a new final assembly line to be constructed at Brookley Aeroplex alongside one used to build the A330 commercial airliner would perform the final work.

Knittel said 300 to 400 new jobs would be created in Mobile to construct 140 to 160 new refueling tankers. All of it would be continent on success during a bidding process expected to begin next year with requests for proposals, Knittel acknowledged.

“Obviously, we’re gonna have to win the contract,” he said.

For Airbus, the tanker bid represents a full circle to 10 years ago when the European company sought a foothold in North America by announcing plans to build a tanker in Mobile in partnership with Northrop Gruman. The partnership won the contract – causing mass celebration among economic developers and elected leaders in Alabama – but it proved to be short-lived.

Rival Boeing Co. challenged the contract award, and the Pentagon ultimately ordered a new bidding contest that American airplane manufacturer ultimately won.

Although construction of the Airbus facility in Mobile initially was premised on winning the contract, the company eventually decided to go ahead with construction plans anyway and opened a civilian jet assembly line.

“We won it, we lost it. We won it, and we lost it again,” recalled Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile), who took office as a county commissioner a week after the original Airbus tanker announcement. “And to have it back, or the opportunity to bid it again, is huge.”

The new project would include state and local tax incentives, but officials did not immediately provide details of those breaks.