MOBILE -- Hoping it will help carve a greater share in the US market for the European aircraft maker, Airbus broke ground Monday on its first US assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama.

"It represents the real transformation of Airbus into a truly global company," chief executive Fabrice Bregier said at a ceremony to mark the launch of construction.

"We'll be manufacturing aircraft in Asia, in America, in Europe," he said. "Thanks to Mobile, the sun will never set on Airbus."

The company, the key rival of  Boeing, expects to assemble its A319, A320 and A321 models in Mobile, with the first to be delivered in 2016.

Last year Airbus said production would hit between 40 and 50 aircraft per year by 2018.

A subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, Airbus is also hoping the expanded U.S. presence will help it compete with Boeing for US defense-related business.

In 2011 Airbus won a $35 billion contract from the Pentagon for air-refueling tankers, only to see it taken away as Boeing weighed in with political pressure and a revised bid.

"We'll be seen, I think, as a very good U.S. citizen and it's always helpful when it deals with military contracts," Bregier told CNBC television.

Agence France-Presse, 2013