Airbus courts suppliers on Boeing’s turf

BELLEVUE — Washington is a “strategic state” for Airbus as it works to boost the amount of business it does with U.S. suppliers to $20 billion by 2020, a $7 billion increase over the next seven years.

The state’s aerospace suppliers “can help in fulfilling this goal for us,” David Williams, vice president of procurement for Airbus Americas, said Thursday at an event intended to help Washington companies learn what’s necessary to become a supplier to Boeing’s biggest rival. The meeting was organized by Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance and the state Department of Commerce.

Williams addressed 110 people, mostly from aerospace companies in the region. More than three years in the making, the meeting drew far more attendees than the 35 to 50 people organizers expected.

Washington has a long history in commercial aviation, with Bill Boeing founding his company in Seattle nearly 100 years ago. As Boeing has diversified its own supply chain and jet assembly sites, state leaders have put more emphasis on helping local companies find customers other than the obvious one.

“We want to make sure the next 100 years are just as exciting here in Washington” as the last 100, said Monica Tate, aerospace business development manager for the Department of Commerce.

The state has a deep aerospace supplier base, with 1,250 companies doing business in the industry, Tate said.

That doesn’t mean all will be shoo-ins at Airbus.

“It is a long process to get on the Airbus-approved list,” Williams said. “We’re a demanding customer.”

Like Boeing, Airbus is pushing suppliers to become more competitive, to improve on a continual basis. Top-level suppliers are expected to help shoulder risk with new development programs. They’re also expected to manage lower-level suppliers and share information about those companies with Airbus.

“You really need to think at a first-tier level if you’re able to make those commitments,” Williams said.

Airbus is motivated to add U.S. suppliers because 99.9 percent of its products are sold for dollars but half of what company buys from suppliers is paid for in euros, Williams said. “That’s a huge risk for us,” he said.

One benefit of being an Airbus supplier: The Toulouse, France-based company has a seven- to eight-year backlog of airplane orders. Airbus also tends to keep suppliers so long as they continue to perform, Williams said.

“It’s a little bit like a marriage,” he said.

Unless the supplier does something really stupid in the marriage, they’re in it for the long haul with Airbus. That’s a pattern to which Mukilteo-based ElectroImpact can attest.

John Hartmann, vice president of ElectroImpact, said his company has been working with Airbus for 25 years. During that time, the supplier of automated tooling and assembly systems has grown from employing five people to 605. ElectroImpact has been a player in the Airbus A320, A330, A340, A380 and A350 programs.

“Every one of these projects was a little bit bigger than the last one,” Hartmann said of ElectroImpact’s roles.

To support all of those programs, ElectroImpact has partnered with British suppliers and opened a facility in England. Despite the long history with Airbus, though, ElectroImpact isn’t taking its position for granted.

“They don’t let you rest. On the next program you’re competing with just as many companies as the last,” Hartmann said. “You need to stay on your game.”

For more information on doing business with Airbus, send an email to EADS.NAsupplier@airbus.com or contact the [URL]Washington state Department of Commerce;http://choosewashingtonstate.com/.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454

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