March 5, 2014 11:37:10 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
More helicopters are about to begin being made in the Golden Triangle.
On Tuesday, Guillaume Faury, the president and CEO of Airbus Helicopters, announced that the company will begin producing AS350 AStar helicopters at its plant in the Golden Triangle Industrial Park.
"The first helicopter to be fully produced here will be in the assembly line in September," Faury said.
The AS350 AStar is the best-selling civil and commercial helicopter model in the U.S., according to the company, which changed its name from American Eurocopter on Feb. 1. Faury said up to 60 will be produced in Columbus.
The company opened a 350,000 square foot facility at the industrial park a decade ago. In 2005, the company began making UH-72A Lakota helicopters for the U.S. Army. Since then, nearly 300 of those aircraft have been produced at the plant.
With recent military budget cuts that will reduce local production of Lakota helicopters, the company sees the move toward producing AStar helicopters in Columbus as one that will offset any impact from that reduction.
There are currently 280 employees at the facility.
"In our business we always have ups and downs," Faury said. "The general trend in Mississippi has been a growing one through the last 10 years. We are driven by the evolution of the work load linked to the Lakota. We are now in a bit of a down phase, but the arrival of the AStar will contribute to secure jobs."
Faury is based in France. This was his first visit to the company's Mississippi facility. He had dinner with Gov. Phil Bryant in Jackson on Monday night.
The AStar helicopters produced at the Columbus site will be aimed at the commercial market, said Sam Adcock, vice president and general manager at Airbus Helicopters.
"Having said that, we have federal customers that buy the AS350 and there is a new competition that will be coming forward, we hope in the next few months," he said. "We are anxious to see those aircraft built in America, here in Columbus, and we believe that will make us more cost competitive and help us expand that phase."
The company has produced and delivered roughly 5,000 AStar helicopters worldwide, including 900 to U.S. customers. Those helicopters were built in the south of France. The company hopes that by producing the helicopters "from start to finish" in Columbus, Adcock said, sales will boost, specifically with government and law enforcement agencies.
"We thought it was time for the AStar to be a U.S. citizen," Faury said.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.