September 14, 2015 / 3:07 PM / 4 years ago

Airbus says U.S. factory is several weeks behind schedule

MOBILE, Ala (Reuters) - Airbus Group (AIR.PA) said on Monday that production of its first U.S.-built jetliner is several weeks behind schedule, but that the planemaker expects to deliver it on time to JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) in the second quarter of 2016.

An Airbus A321 is being assembled in the final assembly line hangar at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Alabama September 13, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

“If we look at the original master program, we’re a little bit behind schedule in certain parts of the project, but none of that is going to affect the actual delivery,” said Barry Eccleston, president of Airbus Americas Inc. “We still think we’ll make the delivery on the original schedule.”

Workers told Reuters that the program was eight weeks behind in some stations due to problems with tools.

Eccleston said the production delay was “a few weeks. It’s not eight weeks. It’s actually a bit less than that but it depends on tool to tool.”Airbus formally opened the $600 million factory in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday. It is due to produce four Airbus jetliners a month starting in late 2017. It is the second such factory Airbus has built outside its home base of Europe and is designed to the most efficient.

While the plant is crucial to meeting production targets, its larger significance is symbolic, Eccleston said. Much like foreign automakers who have set up factories in U.S. states, Airbus hopes that the plant will help it sell to American customers.

The company is aiming for 50 percent of the U.S. market. Its current order book will take it to 40 percent, up from 20 percent before the factory, and Airbus’ newest single-aisle models, were announced.

Airbus expects to deliver the first U.S.-made A321 aircraft to JetBlue early in the second quarter of 2016, Eccleston said. A second A321 for American Airlines Group (AAL.O) will be delivered later in 2016. The A321 is the largest model in the Airbus A320 narrow-bodied family and competes with Boeing Co’s (BA.N) 737.

Allan McArtor, Chairman and Chief Executive of Airbus Group Inc, the European planemaker’s U.S. unit, blamed the delay on a supplier.

“We had some jigs and tools issues with one of our contractors,” he said, referring to the large structures that hold parts in place, as well as the tools used to join parts. “It was annoying. “We’re angered but not behind. We have enough flexibility to catch up.”

He said the contractor, which he declined to name, “didn’t have very good program management. We had to hold their hand a little bit more.”

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Christian Plumb

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