Sam Adcock, Airbus Vice President and General Manager for the Columbus facility, center, talks with Bart Wise of the Columbus Rotary Club. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
July 23, 2014 10:15:12 AM
Since American Eurocopter put down roots in the Golden Triangle in 2003, more than 800 helicopters have departed the hangar at Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
After a re-branding to Airbus Group in January, the Airbus Helicopters plant in Columbus is gearing up to launch its second full helicopter assembly line on Aug. 28.
In addition to the contract the company has with the United States Army to make the UH-72 Lakota helicopters in the Golden Triangle, it will upgrade to an assembly line for the biggest-selling commercial helicopter in the country, known as the AS350 AStar. More than 800 of those aircraft are flying in America today.
Sam Adcock, Vice President and General Manager for the Columbus facility, was optimistic about the company's outlook when he spoke to Columbus Rotarians Tuesday. Eighteen months ago, the outlook wasn't as sunny as federal budget cuts compromised the Lakota program. In response, Airbus pursued the full assembly line for the AS350 to keep the company's 260-plus Columbus employees on the job. Of that group, 43 percent are military veterans.
Since then, the Army has re-evaluated its aging training aircraft and has opted to replace them with Lakotas. The revised contract from the Army calls for 55 Lakotas in the 2015 fiscal year when at one time it looked like that number would be zero. As a result, Airbus will have two full lines, one for military orders, the other for commercial orders.
"Thanks to our congressional delegation, this community, the governor and others, we were successful in seeing the Army revisit that question," Adcock said. "What a difference 18 months makes. This is a huge development that has changed the scope and forward look of Airbus Helicopters here at this production site for the future. Because we had the problem 18 months ago, the company said if we're going to have that kind of problem, we want to make sure we keep a good, stable workforce moving forward. That was when they decided to take the AS350 and let's finally put a full assembly line in the United States."
In 2013, the company amassed revenues exceeding $8 billion. Forty percent of its customer base is civil and commercial, with the rest split evenly between military and medical support, Adcock said. Airbus provides 75 percent of medical evacuation aircraft in the United States, including one that touched down in Louisville 10 minutes after an EF-4 tornado ripped through the town on April 28.
"If you have seen a law enforcement helicopter fly over anywhere you've been, it's better than an 80 percent chance it's ours," Adcock said.
While Airbus doesn't have the same name recognition of similar manufactures such as Bell Helicopters, and Sikorsky, it has quietly become the largest defense and aerospace firm in the world, Adcock said, and the work of those at the Columbus facility has been critical in that process.
"It is a great partnership," Adcock said. "We are the best kept secret in the helicopter industrial base in this country, and that's why we are talking about our story. We're proud of it."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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