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Airbus takes aim at US market with first US-made jetliner

[NEW YORK] Airbus planned to deliver its first US-made jetliner on Monday to JetBlue Airways, a key step in efforts to win market share from rival Boeing Co .

Airbus' first US-built plane, the largest A320-family jet known as the A321, was assembled at a new US$600 million factory in Mobile, Alabama, a site that was an open field three years ago.

The plant holds strategic and symbolic significance for the European plane maker. It ends an era in which Boeing was the only US-based maker of such large commercial airplanes, and it adds to Airbus' industrial capacity as the world's largest plane makers race to boost production through the end of the decade.

Being "US-built" is not a decisive factor in aircraft sales, but "it certainly doesn't hurt to become part of the infrastructure," Airbus sales chief John Leahy told Reuters.

Airbus plans to notch up global A320 output to 60 a month in 2019. Boeing plans to lift output of its competing 737 planes to 57 a month the same year. Both build 42 a month currently.

The Alabama plant also shows Airbus' growing global industrial base. Modeled on an Airbus plant in Hamburg, Germany, the Mobile facility is the company's fourth assembly plant for single-aisle jets after Hamburg, the French city of Toulouse and the Chinese industrial port of Tianjin.

In contrast, Boeing builds all of its 737s at its single factory in Renton, Washington. "Now it is our most modern factory anywhere in the world," Mr Leahy said of the Mobile factory.

Airbus broke ground at site in April 2013, began assembly of the first plane in July 2015, and plans to be producing four aircraft a month at the plant by late 2017. The plant is capable of building at twice that rate, Airbus said.

Airbus is aiming to win 50 per cent of the US market for single-aisle jetliners. It is already on track to capture 40 per cent of such US sales based on the existing orders in its backlog, up from 20 per cent before Airbus' newest single-aisle models were announced.

The second plane from the Mobile plant, also an A321, is due to go to American Airlines in a few weeks.

The plant employs about 600 people, and is expected to build up a network of suppliers in the Mobile area. So far, parts for assembly are all shipped from Europe, Airbus has said.

REUTERS