Arizona will be among the states submitting a proposal this week for an Airbus plant to manufacture aerial tankers for the U.S. Air Force.
State officials declined to comment on specifics because Arizona is in a fierce competition to land the $600 million plant and its 1,100 jobs.
Arizona Department of Commerce spokeswoman Jami McFerran said the state’s proposal meets all of the criteria laid out by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the European consortium that is the parent of Airbus. The consortium has asked states interested in hosting the factory to submit proposals by the end of March.
Although she declined to say which Arizona sites are being offered to European Aeronautic, a Mesa official said Williams Gateway Airport is among the sites that probably will be suggested. During a tour of the airport, Wayne Balmer, the city’s top planning official for the Williams Gateway area, told Tribune editors a site has been designated on the southeast side of the airport property where the plant could be located.
In 2003 Williams was offered as the site for an assembly plant for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing’s next generation airliner, but the company decided to built the plane in Everett, Wash.
Last year the Air Force had a preliminary $23 billion deal with Boeing to lease and buy 100 new aerial refueling tankers based on the 767 airliner. But that agreement fell apart over a procurement scandal, opening the door for European Aeronautic to bid for the order.
In January, European Aeronautic issued a request for proposals to all 50 states in its efforts to find a U.S. manufacturing site for its tanker, which would be based on an Airbus jetliner.
In February, 35 states, including Arizona, sent representatives to a meeting in Washington, D.C., in which the company laid out its requirements for the plant. Among the requirements are a minimum 9,000-foot runway, sufficient space for a 1.5 million-square-foot building, an experienced work force and access to a deep port, where major components from Europe can be unloaded.
Aviation experts say Arizona’s lack of a seaport could hinder the state’s chances.
Darryl Jenkins, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said in an interview and an article written for Site Selection magazine that Gulf Coast states such as Alabama, Louisiana and Florida have the advantage.
"All decisions are political, and you have (Sen.) John McCain, who is an effective campaigner," he said of Arizona’s bid. "But everything else is a negative."
He said Western sites are at a disadvantage because of the higher cost of shipping large airplane components through the Panama Canal to West Coast ports. Also, many East Coast sites are at a disadvantage because of infrastructure impediments such as low railroad overpasses that would block the movement of components from the seaport to factory site, he said.
The ideal situation would be to have a port where the components could be offloaded from ships onto barges and then transported by water directly to the factory. The Gulf Coast offers the best possibilities for that scenario, he said.
Among the Gulf states, Alabama has been particularly aggressive in offering economic incentives for manufacturing plants, he said.
Others familiar with the bidding process said Texas and North Carolina also plan to offer big incentive packages.
The major disadvantage of the Southeast region is its vulnerability to hurricanes, Jenkins said, but a plant located a short distance inland could avoid the most severe coastal damage zone.
The Airbus plan is strongly opposed by the Washington state congressional delegation, which still wants the tankers built by Boeing. They have called the European Aeronautic proposal a "ploy" to use American tax dollars to support French jobs.