Business & Economy

Airbus looks to do more business with SoCal firms

The cockpit of an Airbus A380.
The cockpit of an Airbus A380.
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

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The French aircraft maker Airbus wants to do more business with Southern California firms. The company says it spends about $1 billion a year in Southern California on contracts with about a hundred suppliers. It spends $12 billion a year nationwide.

“We want to increase that. We want to double that in the next five, ten years," said Airbus chairman Allan McArtor. He says the company is planning for a big expansion because business is very good – Airbus has nearly 4,500 orders in the pipeline.

“The backlog of sales for Airbus is so large that when we go to an airline customer and tell them that we’ll sell them an airplane but they can’t get delivery until 2019 or something, that’s not really a good thing," McArtor said. "So we’ve got to build more airplanes."

McArtor is particularly interested in firms that are innovators.

“Maybe they’re dealing in composite structures. Maybe they’re in electronics. Maybe they’re metal shops, dealing with particular alloys. Small operations but world class best practices," he said.

Airbus is not the only firm looking for more local business, said economist Kimberly Ritter-Martinez of the LA County Economic Development Corporation. Boeing is as well.

“The only thing is going to be if the subcontractors have the ability to ramp up as quickly as Boeing and Airbus are demanding," said Ritter-Martinez. "Not only are we seeing an increase in orders but they’re also asking for faster production times. So it will be a bit of a scramble for a lot of these subcontractors, but as far as problems, go, that’s probably a good one to have."

Airbus chairman McArtor is optimistic.

“We like what we see here. We like the companies, we like the talent, we like the motivation and Airbus is going to be a partner with Southern California for a long time," he said.

McArtor said it could take a supplier from one to several years to land a contract, depending on a variety of factors.

Ritter-Martinez notes that, since the end of the Cold War, Los Angeles County has lost nearly 70 percent of its workforce in the aerospace industry.

Still, the six-county area of Southern California employs nearly 120,000 people in the industry, "and that doesn’t even count all of the supporting industries that also contract with aerospace companies to supply goods and services," she said.

Economists say it's an exciting time for Southland aviation: Los Angeles International Airport has the most US flights to the fast growing Asia-Pacific market; transportation authorities are renovating LAX to accommodate the Airbus A380, the largest commercial airliner in the world; and most importantly, people are flying more.