In October 2006, Airbus Helicopters – then known as Eurocopter-Mississippi – expanded its operations in Columbus, Mississippi, to accommodate a contract with the U.S. Army, which called for 350 of the Army’s signature UH-72A Lakota helicopters. In a very short period of time, we had to hire new staff, build a facility to house the UH-72A program, install a production line, set up all tooling, install specialized processes and complicated jigs, and test equipment – all in support of the Lakota’s addition to our production line-up.
In addition to recruiting and training 300 aircraft technicians on technical aviation processes implemented across the board, we also had to maintain adequate staff to support our commercial production line. We performed all of this on schedule, at cost, and with 100 percent quality. The expansion was a tremendous endeavor that required the support, cooperation, and collaboration of numerous individuals, internal and external, working together toward a common goal.
The support we received from outside entities also helped us navigate the standard and unique challenges that arise when companies begin new operations. I’m reluctant to mention those involved for fear I may unintentionally omit someone, but they include the governor’s office and its extension, the Mississippi Development Authority; East Mississippi Community College; the WIN Job Center; Mississippi State University; the Golden Triangle Development LINK; the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors; local merchants; and financial institutions.
Today, I am happy to report that our vision from nearly nine years ago has been a remarkable success with – to date – 330 Lakotas delivered on schedule, at cost, and performing in the field above and beyond standard performance metrics. I am also excited to announce that Airbus is currently launching a new commercial assembly line to complement our military line. From the heart of Mississippi, two helicopter assembly lines have delivered more than 600 aircraft all over the world in less than a decade. Wow!
However, I must say that while this journey has been fun and exciting, it has not been without its challenges. In October 2013, the President’s 2014 Budget was released, and to our surprise, Airbus had been budgeted out of the military sector. Gov. Phil Bryant immediately stepped in to offer support and assistance. Within one week, he summoned a conference room full of state leaders, personally assigning each one a task with the common goal of recovering the Lakota’s budget. Gov. Bryant personally visited Washington, D.C. and wrote numerous letters on our behalf, and he closely managed the Lakota’s budget recovery efforts. Our partners in Washington, Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, and Congressmen Greg Harper, Alan Nunnelee, Steven Palazzo, and Bennie Thompson quickly joined the recovery efforts, as well.
Their unwavering support of Airbus and the UH-72A program resulted in the recovery of the Lakota budget and an order to produce even more of the helicopters. Another happy ending: the Army, based on the Lakota’s outstanding reputation, chose to redeploy the helicopter as the official trainer at Fort Rucker.
These successes serve as a testimony not only to the Lakota, but to the quality work Mississippians are known for around the world. Mississippi also has a strong, supportive business environment, and combined with its workforce and collaborative leadership, the Lakota’s budget recovery was made possible.
It is amazing what can be accomplished when all synergies are focused, approachable, and energized. The proof is in the pudding. History was made, and I was fortunate to be along for the ride.
Welcome to my state: Mississippi.