Thursday, October 2, 2008

Synergy; tanker maintenance

Any of my long-time associates will tell you that if there's one overriding theme I keep harping upon, it's synergy. One reason I believe Gulf Coast aerospace corridor has so much potential isn't just because of the aerospace activities alone, but because of related activities in the region.

One of those is geospatial technologies, a growing field that is particularly important for the aerospace sector. And when you consider that the wave of the future in aerospace is unmanned systems, technologies that provide the "eyes" and "ears" for these machines – not just the equipment itself but the applications – is crucial.

Hotspots for geospatial technologies in the Gulf Coast are at Stennis Space Center, where NASA has its big geospatial applications effort, Stennis International Airport, home of the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise, Ocean Springs (Gulf Coast Geospatial Center), and in and around Eglin Air Force Base.

So I was intrigued that Northrop Grumman opted to buy 3001 International, a geospatial company that started in South Louisiana. The acquisition was announced in early September and the transaction is expected to close this quarter. Once a done deal, 3001 will be part of Northrop Grumman’s Information Technology sector.

3001 was established in 1965 with two people. It now has some 250 employees and includes operations in South Louisiana and John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. It provides geospatial data production and analysis, including airborne imaging, surveying, mapping and geographic information systems for domestic and international government intelligence, defense and civilian customers.

Linda Mills, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman IT, said the addition of 3001 “will significantly complement our current core geospatial business” and “help us further address the critical needs and priorities across civilian, defense, intelligence, homeland security, energy and environmental business areas, from both domestic and international perspectives.”

This item is not directly related to activities in the Gulf Coast aerospace region, but it's interesting enough to note because of its connection to the aborted/delayed Air Force aerial tanker project.

A federal court ordered the Air Force to redo a $1.1 billion competition for maintenance of the KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. The judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims upheld a lawsuit filed in June by Alabama Aircraft Industries Inc., of Birmingham, Ala. The suit was filed after Alabama Aircraft lost a second protest with the Government Accountability Office.

The KC-135 contract went to Boeing at a time when the Air Force envisioned a smaller number of existing tankers requiring maintenance. But now that the program to replace the tankers has been booted to the next administration, more KC-135s will have to have heavy maintenance. So the contract value, little doubt, will go up.

Now with the possibility of an even bigger contract, Alabama Aircraft told Reuters that it is not ruling out the possibility of joining Boeing in the new bid. To see the Reuters story, click here.

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