June 2, 2020 2:50:28 PM
Garrick Hodge - [email protected]
Despite the pandemic caused by COVID-19, Airbus' Columbus facility is still on schedule to meet its helicopter production requirements on time.
Romain Trapp, President of Airbus Helicopters and head of the company's North American Region, told The Dispatch he fully expects Columbus' Airbus plant to produce 16 Airbus H-125 helicopters for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agreement, announced by the company in late January, specifies that deliveries of the aircraft will start later this year. These helicopters will be equipped with infrared detection systems, thermal imaging cameras, night-vision goggles, hoist capabilities and loudspeakers.
"Around 75 percent of the work we do in North America is in support of critical helicopter missions, including emergency medical services, law enforcement agencies, infrastructure companies, and key governmental and military customers such as the U.S. Army and National Guard, Customs & Border Protection, and U.S. Coast Guard," Trapp said. "All of whom are performing helicopter flights that the country relies on right now. This unprecedented and evolving COVID-19 situation has indeed changed the way that we are currently working, as we adapt our operations to keep our employees safe so they can continue to work to support our customers."
Columbus' Airbus facility, one of four Airbus locations in America, has nearly 200 employees and typically produces up to 80 aircrafts a year, but Trapp said the demand to produce H-125's has created the need for several dozen more jobs at the Golden Triangle plant.
In a normal setting, each employee at the Columbus facility contributes to specific work stations: mechanical assembly, installing wiring, navigation systems and safety testing. Airbus, an international company with almost 25,000 employees in total, has had to take precautions to ensure the health of its workers is not compromised, though.
"The health and safety of our employees will always be our number one priority," Trapp said. "In Airbus facilities across the U.S., stringent health and safety practices and measures have been implemented to protect the health and safety of our employees, based on guidance from the CDC and applicable local authorities. We are ensuring that workstations are rigorously cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day, that masks are available for those who will be required to work in confined circumstances, that adequate stocks of hand sanitizer are available."
Trapp added Airbus has implemented mandatory temperature testing for all employees working in facilities and has allowed select workers to work remotely.
"We have implemented staggered shifts for those on-site in order to reduce the number of people in any given area at one time," Trapp said. "The health and safety of our people remains our overriding, uncompromised priority."
In addition to the H-125's, the Columbus Airbus plant will produce an additional 15 UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopters for the U.S. Army.
United States Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., originally announced the Army's Lakota contract with Airbus in early March, a deal with an initial obligation of $61.3 million and one that could be worth up to $122.6 million total.
"This is excellent news for the skilled manufacturers in Columbus who build the Lakota helicopter," Wicker said in a news release. "As our military works to develop the next generation of helicopter pilots, the Lakota will be there to help. Mississippians can be proud of that legacy."
The Lakota contract runs through August of 2022. Trapp said he expects Airbus to fulfill the contract on time.
"Our facilities in Columbus are a key production site for Airbus Helicopters, and we are proud of the work we do building helicopters in the United States for the entire North American region," Trapp said.