Now that the first Alabama-made airplanes are rolling off the assembly line at the Airbus manufacturing plant in Mobile and taking to the skies, the big question is: What’s next?

Plenty.

In fact, the global plane maker has only just begun to make its mark on Mobile and Alabama, according to business leaders and market forecasts that show a robust, long-term demand for the passenger jets produced there.

Airbus continues to ramp up production and expects the $600 million factory at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley to turn out between 40 and 50 A320 Family aircraft each year by 2018.

Worldwide, there’s an anticipated demand for more than 20,000 single-aisle planes over the next 20 years. The U.S. is the world’s largest market for such aircraft, and the vast majority of those built in Mobile will be delivered to customers in North America.

“I think we can all take great comfort in knowing that the Airbus book of orders is so healthy for the next 20 years,” said Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Certainly, we will see aircraft production reach capacity rates as quickly as possible in order to meet the demand,” he added. “The more aircraft that are delivered per month from Mobile will mean more supplier and service provider opportunities at Brookley and beyond.”

Farnborough mission

Bill Sisson

Bill Sisson, president and CEO, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed)

Sisson and others from the Mobile area are part of the Alabama economic development team that is promoting the state at the Farnborough International Airshow in London this week. The Alabama delegation at the industry’s most important trade event is being led by Gov. Robert Bentley.

“Our work at the Farnborough Airshow will be about continuing to build a strong network with Airbus suppliers and a great opportunity to evangelize about the strength of doing business in Mobile,” Sisson said.

“As the world’s newest aviation center, it is our region’s golden opportunity to market on the world stage. We’re doing that and will continue to foster the full development of Mobile’s fastest-growing business sector.”

The region already has been successful in landing new business tied to Airbus. A recent example is UTC Aerospace Systems, which in May announced an expansion of its Baldwin County aerostructures plant.

The company plans a $30 million facility that will supply jet engine systems to the Airbus plant, creating 260 jobs.

Employees celebrate during the April delivery ceremony for the first Airbus aircraft produced at Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

Employees celebrate during the April delivery ceremony for the first Airbus aircraft produced at Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

Earning confidence

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the state is well positioned to win similar projects. Aerospace is identified as a key sector for job growth in Accelerate Alabama, the state’s strategic economic development growth plan.

“We are working hard to seize on the opportunity of being one of the few places in the world that produce big jets,” Canfield said. “Alabama’s workforce has earned the confidence of Airbus, and that’s gotten the attention of their suppliers and support businesses.”

Airbus in 2012 announced plans for the Mobile plant, which is the company’s first U.S.-based commercial aircraft production facility. Assembly began there a year ago, and the first Alabama-made Airbus 321 passenger jet, named BluesMobile, was delivered to customer JetBlue in April.

About 350 people now work at the Airbus Alabama aircraft plant, and the facility is expected to support 1,000 jobs once production reaches full capacity.

More than 200 engineers and support staff work nearby at the Airbus Engineering Center. In addition, Airbus Group’s North American military customer services operation is at the Mobile Regional Airport.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.