Airbus celebrates 20 years of manufacturing in Columbus, Mississippi
By Brent Bundy
On Aug. 25th, 2023, Airbus Helicopters celebrated 20 years of manufacturing aircraft at its Columbus, Mississippi factory.
The milestone was attended by government dignitaries, high-ranking military officers and Airbus executives, and was covered by local and international media.
The day-long event began with demonstration flights in one of the flagship products built at the plant, the latest iteration of the light-twin H145, the D3 designation with its five-blade main rotor, Fenestron tail-rotor system, and four-axis autopilot.
Ribbon cutting for the dedication of the H125 display. From left: Bart Reijnen, CEO of Satair; Major General Tom O’Connor, U.S. Army Air and Missile Command; Johannes Dienemann, vice president of industry and civil programs/Columbus plant manager; Roger Wicker, U.S. Senator for Mississippi; Cindy Hyde-Smith, U.S. Senator for Mississippi; Romain Trapp, president of Airbus Helicopters and head of North America Region; Major General Trent Kelly, Mississippi Congressman/Army National Guard; and Rob Geckle, CEO for Airbus U.S. Space and Defense. Brent Bundy Photo
Since the day the hangar doors opened two decades ago, the H145 has been produced here. Beginning in 2007, the U.S. military version of the H145, the UH-72 Lakota, has been assembled in Mississippi.
As of 2015, the single-engine H125, popular with law enforcement, air medical and tour operators, has also been built onsite. In recognition of this latest addition to the Columbus catalog, the morning demo flights were followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the recently installed H125 display, which is mounted at the entrance to the facility, similar to other Airbus facilities.
“Twenty years ago people didn’t believe that we could build high-tech products in the middle of Mississippi,” said Johannes Dienemann, Airbus vice president of industry and civil programs and Columbus plant manager. We’ve proven them wrong.”
The colorful paint scheme on the monument aircraft is representative of the state flag and was designed in-house by one of the more than 300 workers employed at this location.
“This aircraft represents the past, present, and future,” said Dienemann. “Even though we’ve been here for 20 years, a lot of people in the area don’t know what we do. Having this helicopter on the stand will change that.”
The festivities then moved indoors to the delivery center, where vice president of military line of business Scott Tumpak emceed the ceremony. Accolades and recognition of accomplishments for the facility and its employees were offered by president of Airbus Helicopters Romain Trapp, U.S. Senators from Mississippi, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, and U.S. Army Air and Missile Command Major General Tom O’Connor.
Unable to attend but sending his well-wishes by video presentation was Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. In addition to invited guests, a significant portion of plant employees were in the standing-room-only assembly.
At the conclusion of the speeches, entertainment was provided in the form of an impressive aerial demonstration by aerobatic helicopter pilot Scott Urschel in his MBB (Airbus) Bo105. On the flight line was a collection of Airbus products including a UH-72 Lakota, U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dauphin, and the H160.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Army awarded Airbus a $27.8 million contract for the upgrading of the Army National Guard S&S (Security & Support) Battalion Mission Equipment Package (MEP). This upgrade will retrofit up to 50 S&S Battalion UH-72A Lakotas with state-of-the-art apparatus including advanced infrared cameras, moving maps systems, high-definition monitors and other mission equipment improvements.
These enhancements will be implemented at the Columbus facility and Vertical was given a behind-the-scenes preview of the MEP, along with discussions with the engineers coordinating the project.
The day of celebration concluded with a tour of the 325,000 square-foot factory. Senior manager of production Ben Sullivan explained each step of the build process, from parts delivery through construction and testing to the final paint shop and flight line completion.
H125s and H145s, including the UH-72, are assembled concurrently along parallel assembly lines in the main building, which allows for 70 to 90 aircraft a year to be delivered from this location. In addition, the completions area can make modifications, repairs, and other customer requests for a variety of Airbus models.
Vertical then sat down with Trapp to discuss the significance of this anniversary and what it means to Airbus as well as the local community.
“This is a very important day for us,” he said. “The Mississippi location is our third largest, in terms of number of aircraft completed. Every year we deliver between 70 and 90 aircraft and plan to hit 100 eventually. That is about 20 percent of all Airbus helicopter deliveries. This facility has really helped in expanding our presence in the U.S. market. Since it opened, over 1,700 aircraft have left here.”
When asked about the impact on the region, Trapp’s respect and appreciation for the workforce was evident.
“It has always been very important for us to be local. When we were searching for a new location, several things were necessary. We needed to be close to an airport that was large enough but not too busy, and also allowed for expansion, as we’ve done over the past 20 years.
“We learned that in this area there are a lot of veterans from each of the armed forces who wanted to come back to Mississippi but there was no aerospace industry. This allowed us to hire without competition. Also, Mississippi is a business-friendly environment with strong support in the government, from the governor to the congresspersons, to the senators. They wanted us here and it helped make a difference.”
Holding steadfast to Airbus’ support for military veterans, 35 percent of the Columbus facility workforce is made up of those who have served their country.
“We are very proud of the veterans we have hired, and we have seen generational hiring,” said Trapp. “Columbus is a family, and we are part of that family. We sponsor events, we partner with educational institutions. We do this because we are a part of this community.”
While Airbus Helicopters celebrates 20 years in Columbus, sights are already set on the future.
As UH-72 Lakotas, H145s and H125s continue to roll off the assembly line, the recent awarding of the S&S MEP contract and the announcement of two new H125 variants, the AH-125 armed version and the MH-125 multi-role configuration — both of which will be produced here — Airbus has shown its commitment to remaining in the Golden Triangle region of Mississippi.