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Airbus delivers ‘beautiful yellow bird:’ first A320 made in Mobile

Ted Christie, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Spirit Airlines, gestures at the new Airbus A320 delivered to the airline on Friday by the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile. Behind Christie are Bob Lekites, left, executive vice president for customers at Airbus Americas, and Daryl Taylor, right, general manager of the Mobile facility. (Lawrence Specker/LSpecker@AL.com)

"We appreciate you giving us this beautiful yellow bird," a Spirit Airlines executive said Friday as Airbus executives handed over the keys to the first A320 jetliner built in Mobile.

Ted Christie, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Spirit, went on to say that the airline has had a special relationship with the manufacturer since it purchased its first A319 13 years ago. The "yellow bird" on display Friday would be the 106th jet in its all-Airbus fleet, he said.

Christie described Spirit as "the fastest-growing airline in the United States, the most profitable, and the most fun." He said that as an ultra low cost carrier, Spirit makes air travel possible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, "and it starts with an efficient machine."

The aircraft on display Friday was the 37th Airbus jetliner made in Mobile since the Airbus Final Assembly Line started production in early 2016, and the sixth of those to be delivered to Spirit. But as the first A320 delivered out of Mobile, it was anything but old hat.

"With this very first A320 assembled, we recognized another key milestone," said Daryl Taylor, general manager of the Mobile facility. "But like all of our deliveries, this isn’t just about the aircraft. More importantly it’s about the team – the team here in Mobile and what we’ve been able to deliver yet again."

The Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile took extra care building its first A320: Major components arrived in May, and the jet was delivered Aug. 25. (Lawrence Specker/LSpecker@AL.com)

Plans called for the plant to build three variants of Airbus’ single-aisle A320 jets: A321s, A320s and A319s. All share the same fuselage width, wingspan and other dimensions, but they vary in fuselage length. Until now the Mobile plant has built only A321s, which are about 23 feet longer than an A320. The difference sounds simple enough in principle, but the assembly of this particular jet was the first time it was executed in practice in Mobile.

Going forward, A321s likely will continue to be the biggest portion of jets built in Mobile, said a spokeswoman. But A320s will be in the mix from now on.

Company officials say the Mobile facility is on track to reach a production rate of four jets per month by the end of the year.

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