Williams Gateway Airport in east Mesa has failed to make the cut to become the site of a $600 million Airbus plant to produce aerial tankers for the U.S. military.
Officials of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent company of Airbus, said Thursday they have selected sites in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina as finalists to host the factory.
More than 70 sites in 32 states made bids for the project. Arizona proposed Williams Gateway Airport, Phoenix Goodyear Airport and Tucson International Airport as potential locations for the factory.
The four sites selected as finalists are Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, Ala.; Melbourne International Airport, Melbourne, Fla.; Stennis International Airport, Kiln, Miss.; and Charleston International Airport, North Charleston, S.C.
Ralph Crosby Jr., CEO of EADS North America, said they "emerged as the sites most capable of meeting the transportation, personnel and manufacturing demands of large military aircraft assembly."
He said the four finalists will be asked to submit more information about their sites in preparation for the winner’s selection in July.
France-based EADS is hoping to compete with Boeing to supply next-generation refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force and is proposing to establish a U.S. factory to assemble the aircraft using parts and major components imported by ship from overseas.
Initially, Airbus plans to set up an engineering center that would employ 100 to 150 people.
If the company wins the Air Force contract, it would team with a U.S. defense contractor, possibly Northrop Grumman Corp., to build the factory, which could employ 1,100 people.
Congress nullified a potential $23 billion tanker deal with Boeing last year amid an ethics scandal, and the Pentagon is expected to open the contract to competition later this year.
Joe Yuhas, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Commerce, said he was disappointed but not surprised the Arizona sites didn’t make the cut, given their location in the West and away from major ports.
"Clearly geography is playing a role," he said.
"The four states that were selected are east of the Mississippi and along the coast. It’s also important to note that these states, particularly Alabama and Florida, have a deep toolbox of economic development incentives."
Still, he said Arizona officials at least made themselves known to Airbus, which could help in landing companies that would make components for the new aircraft, he said.
Mesa economic development director Richard Mulligan also said the effort was not wasted.
"Any time we get an opportunity to promote Williams Gateway Airport and get it better known in aerospace circles, that is something we want to do," he said.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report