COLUMBUS, MS—American Eurocopter has inaugurated a new plant that may have implications beyond the simple manufacture of helicopters. The new facility, located on 2,400 acres of industrial property, will employ about 100 engineers, technicians and administrative staff. Specific activities will include manufacturing, assembly and customization.

More importantly, the plant secures a North American presence for EADS, a European defense contractor that employs over 100,000 workers worldwide and is a majority shareholder in Europe’s Airbus consortium. Airbus is currently competing with Boeing for a multibillion dollar contract to replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging fleet of refueling aircraft.

According to industry observers, it would be politically difficult to award such an important contract to a foreign company, both for economic and security reasons. But as EADS and Airbus increase their presence in the United States, those political distinctions will inevitably blur.

With regard to the Columbus plant, manufacturing efforts will include the assembly and customization of helicopters used by both local and federal government organizations for military operations, homeland security and traditional law enforcement.

Even before its formal inauguration, the plant was manufacturing rear fuselage sections for the AS 350 helicopter, which is assembled in the both the United States and France. The plant will also produce upgrade kits for the U.S. Coast Guard’s HH65 Dauphin helicopter.

"Not only will the new site play a decisive role in the development of American Eurocopter in the United States. It will also be vital in providing a more positive response to the needs of our customers,” says Eurocopter President Fabrice Brégier. “I have no doubt that the new site will have an impact well outside the borders of the United States and that it will enhance Eurocopter's standing throughout the world."

In addition to Airbus and Eurocopter, the world's largest helicopter manufacturer, EADS is a stakeholder in MBDA, the world's second largest missile company, the Eurofighter consortium and the European Galileo program, which works in the field of satellite-based navigation.