The competitive battle between Boeing Co. and Airbus is often cast as a U.S.-versus-Europe struggle for airliner supremacy.
But although Airbus is decidedly a European company, a significant proportion of Airbus airliner parts are made in America — by companies including Oro Valley-based Meggitt Securaplane.
In fact, Securaplane has been providing Airbus with a key cockpit-door surveillance system for a decade — a relationship the two companies celebrated this week at Securaplane’s new flagship plant in Oro Valley.
“We’re 10 years into the marriage, and so far it’s been very positive,” David Williams, vice president of procurement for Airbus Americas, told a crowd of Securaplane employees in the cafeteria of the company’s new facility in Oro Valley’s Innovation Park.
Shubhayu Chakraborty, president of Securaplane since 2009, said the local company looks forward to working to supply Airbus with more innovative products.
Talks about future product-supply opportunities are ongoing, Williams and Chakraborty said.
Besides the surveillance systems Secureplane supplies to Airbus, the local company designs and makes battery, power conversion, camera, security and wireless control systems. Securaplane’s customers include most of the major aircraft makers, besides Airbus including Boeing Co., Bombardier, Gulfstream and Embraer.
Securaplane, part of United Kingdom-based Meggitt PLC since 2011, supplies a battery charging system for Boeing’s high-efficiency 787 Dreamliner, which was temporarily grounded last year after battery fires hit two of the planes. The local company’s products were not implicated in an inconclusive investigation of the fires. Though regulators have not yet issued a final report, Chakraborty says the company remains confident in its products.
Securaplane’s innovations have helped drive sales growth that has averaged about 15 percent annually since 2009, Chakraborty said, adding that the company’s workforce has roughly tripled since 2009 to 180 today.
“We expect double-digit (annual) growth through the next 10 years,” Chakraborty said, pegging the company’s current annual sales in the range of $75 million.
That growth drove the decision top expand to the new facility at 12350 N. Vistoso Park Road in Oro Valley, which at about 55,000 square feet is about twice the size of its old plant about two miles away.
Chakraborty praised Oro Valley officials for helping the company push the project through from groundbreaking in late March 2013 to initial move-in in December.
The Securaplane project was the first to be approved under Oro Valley’s new Economic Expansion Zone ordinance, which provides expedited permitting for qualified developments. Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath noted.
The town permitting process allowed the project to move forward without a single construction delay, Chakraborty said.
“Is was a really expedited schedule — to give you an idea, if you came here in March of 2013, this ground would have looked like the mountains — it was bare desert,” he said, gesturing out a window to Pusch Ridge and the Santa Catalinas to the east.
About a third of Securaplane’s staff works in engineering, he said. Though the company recruits nationally, it has hired a number of University of Arizona engineering graduates and is looking to strengthen its ties with the UA, Chakraborty said. Securaplane has sponsored student engineering projects and has hosted student interns from both the UA’s College of Engineering and the Eller College of Management.
While it is sometimes hard to get recruits to move to the Tucson area — partly because Tucson competes with other areas with larger aerospace clusters — the Oro Valley location and the weather are a big selling point, Chakraborty said.
“That is definitely an attractive selling point and we do use that a lot in our recruiting — maybe that’s why our recruiting is more successful in the winter,” Chakraborty joked.
Securaplane may indeed beef up its staff, given current forecasts for huge growth in aviation as existing airlines look to modernize their fleets and new airlines expand in developing countries.
Industrywide, Airbus and other industry leaders forecast that the world will need 30,000 new airplanes in the next 20 years at a cost of more than $4 trillion, Williams said.
That means opportunity for U.S.-based aerospace tech companies.
About 80 percent of the parts for Airbus planes are sourced from subcontractors, and 42 percent of the money the French-based company spends on aircraft-related procurement come from U.S. firms, Williams said.
Dollarwise, Airbus’ annual U.S. spending is expected to grow from $13 billion in 2012 — including about $225 million to Arizona companies including Securaplane and Honeywell — to $20 billion by 2020.
Airbus relies heavily on U.S. companies like Securaplane for innovative technologies, such as the cockpit surveillance system the Oro Valley company provides for its airliners, Williams said. Williams congratulated Securaplane for having a 100 percent delivery record in 23 of the last 24 months, despite the expansion move.
“That is what we expect, but is more unusual than we hope,” he said.
Business for Airbus suppliers will only increase as Airbus moves through a nine-year backlog of plane orders, Williams said.
A new Airbus final-assembly plant scheduled to start production next year in Mobile, Ala., will bring production closer to U.S. customers and suppliers, he said.
“We’re searching for ways to improve our lead times, but we’re a victim of our success,” Williams said.