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First Airbus Supplier Opens Shop

Safran Engineering’s Ricardo Varela visits 
the company’s new Mobile office, located at Brookley to be in proximity to major client 
Airbus.

Safran Engineering’s Ricardo Varela visits the company’s new Mobile office, located at Brookley to be in proximity to major client Airbus.

Photo by Todd Douglas

It’s still two years before the first Airbus A320 will roll off the assembly line now under construction in Mobile, but the first supplier for the international aircraft company already has opened its doors in a nearby spot at Brookley Aeroplex.

Safran Engineering Services, a 3,600-engineer subsidiary of the French firm Labinal, has offices around the world, says Ricardo Varela, engineering general manager for North America.

A world leader in aircraft wiring and electrical systems, Safran has offices in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, India, Mexico, Morocco, Canada and the U.S.

“We try to have a large footprint and be close to our customers,” says Varela, in Alabama about once a month from his home office in Everett, Washington, just a stone’s throw from the Boeing 747 plant.

Safran began planning its Mobile presence when Airbus opened an engineering office to help its bid for a military contract, long before the commercial jet assembly line was announced. “We believe communication and face-to-face are key to creating trust and for success,” says Varela. It’s helpful for engineers to be close to the project they’re working on, he says, to be able to see and touch the actual product instead of relying always on a digital image, and it helps build a sense of pride in the finished product.

Safran has a strong connection to the A320 planes to be built in Alabama. A poster on the conference room wall shows images of dozens and dozens of aircraft and little icons shows just which of the craft’s systems have been touched by Safran’s engineers. The A320 has a row of icons even longer than most, representing work on the engineering, avionics, engine modules, nacelles, braking system, wiring and more.

So far, Safran has brought in 10 engineers and plans to build a team of 50, including a mix of newcomers and Safran veterans. 

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