WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Airbus has clashed with the U.S. aerospace industry over whether it should be allowed to join its top domestic lobbying group, weeks after announcing plans to set up jet assembly in Alabama.
Boeing’s (BA.N) main rival says its parent, European aerospace group EADS EAD.PA, should be allowed to take a seat alongside flagship UK firms Rolls-Royce (RR.L) and BAE Systems (BAES.L) because it has facilities in the U.S. and already employs thousands of local workers.
It plans to add 1,000 more aerospace industry jobs by assembling some of its A320 jets in Mobile, Alabama, from 2016.
But it was rebuffed by the head of the Aerospace Industries Association, who said membership of the 93-year-old club was reserved for companies without foreign government ownership.
EADS is 15-percent owned by the French government and is in the throes of seeing a similar stake being acquired by Germany.
“Remember, this is the Aerospace Industry Association of America. We go back to (U.S. aviation pioneers) Orville Wright and Glenn Curtiss, who founded this almost a hundred years ago,” AIA President and Chief Executive Marion Blakey told Reuters.
“We are here to represent the interests of the United States (industry) and we do not believe it’s appropriate for foreign governments to use AIA to lobby our own,” she added.
The U.S. units of Thales (TCFP.PA) and Safran (SAF.PA), two defense companies controlled by the French state, are listed as associate members, which grants a more limited access to alerts and networking.
The AIA was founded in 1919 at a banquet at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel to “foster, advance, promulgate and promote aeronautics...and to do every act and thing...necessary...for the advancement of American aviation”.
It regularly lobbies on behalf of the industry for spending on new technology to manage America’s clogged airways and has embarked on a campaign ahead of forthcoming U.S. elections to save jobs threatened by forced cuts to the U.S. defense budget.
For Airbus, being accepted into the fold would boost its U.S. credentials and help heal the wounds of a bitter tanker contest and trade disputes against Boeing.
The AIA regularly meets government officials on issues like defense spending but the head of Airbus Americas dismissed fears that European governments could interfere with the process, saying they had full diplomatic channels to press their views.
“We find it strange that AIA seems reluctant to have EADS and especially Airbus as a member since Airbus is the U.S. aerospace industry’s largest export customer,” Barry Eccleston said, adding “We do meet all the qualifications”.
“We buy $12 billion worth of stuff a year from U.S. aerospace companies, just about all of whom are members of Marion’s organization,” he added.
Ecclestone and Blakey were speaking in separate sessions with Reuters reporters on Tuesday.
U.S. aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton defended Airbus’ bid for AIA membership, which costs up to $400,000 a year.
“There are key issues that Airbus and Boeing have in common: flight safety, air traffic management, environment, bio-fuel. There is no reason why Airbus Americas shouldn’t be a part of this group to participate in lobbying Congress for these kinds of issues,” he wrote.
EADS North America could also help lobby against the prospect of automatic defense cuts, he added.
Blakey, a native of Alabama who certified Europe’s A380 superjumbo in a previous role as head of the Federal Aviation Administration, insisted Airbus was not viewed as a threat.
“Airbus is a partner with many of our companies and our companies supply Airbus ... but the question is really their role through AIA.”
Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, Karen Jacobs; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Helen Massy-Beresford