Friday, February 13, 2009

Week in review (2/8 to 2/14)

It's an intriguing question. Would the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. build an aircraft plant in the region even if it fails to win the Air Force tanker competition?

Donald Epley, director of the Mitchell College of Business Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of South Alabama, thinks so. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Epley said during the week that the exchange rate is killing EADS, and he thinks the company will bring about 1,000 jobs to the region, tanker or no tanker. He made the comment at the annual Real Estate Trends Report and Forecast Conference in Pensacola.

Epley makes a good point, and he's not alone in that thinking. This is a relatively low cost area of the country, and no doubt economic development officials from this region bend over backwards to welcome new businesses, major and minor players alike.
The Gulf Coast region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida has a wide range of aerospace capabilities, from space programs in the west portion of the corridor to weapons development in the east, and a range of activities in between. Every major aerospace company has an operation in the region, and over the past few years economic development officials have been cooperating regularly to promote not only their own area, but the broader region.

Northrop/EADS won the competition last year to build the next generation of Air Force tankers in Mobile, Ala. The decision was overturned after a Boeing protest, and a new round of competition will begin this year. And while the company would certainly like to win that tanker contest, Mobile remains a viable location for any number of EADS projects where the primary customer is in the United States. EADS has shown a good deal of interest in Mobile. It set up an EADS-CASA maintenance center and Airbus engineering center in Mobile, and it did say as far back as January 2008 that it would build cargo planes in Mobile if it won the tanker project.
Epley's comment seemed right on the mark.

- Speaking of Mobile, the Mobile Press-Register reported during the week that Teledyne Continental Motors is recalling 9,600 cylinders from piston aircraft engines because of a metal-casting problem that can cause the cylinder heads to crack. The company expects the recall to cost as much $18 million.

- The first operational Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Global Hawk is now in Southwest Asia with the Air Force's 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. In a concept of operations called remote-split operations, the Navy Global Hawks' arrival marks the culmination of more than five months of joint effort to stand up a maritime surveillance presence in the region.

Prior to arrival in Southwest Asia, the Navy Global Hawk has been in service for non-wartime missions during its test and development phase, including spying on Hurricane Ike. Fuselage work on the Global Hawk is done at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

Joint Strike Fighter
Aviation Week reported during the week that four defense oversight committees in Congress approved the Navy's reprogramming request in fiscal 2009 for funds to secure purchases of the first Joint Strike Fighter for carrier operations. The $40 million will pay for long lead parts for three Lockheed Martin F-35Cs.

The F-35 has three variants: a traditional version for the Air Force that takes off from runways, a carrier version for the Navy and a vertical takeoff and landing version for the Marines. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the joint training site for the F-35 program.

Eglin will see one of its own as an instructor in the F-35 program. Maj. Lee Kloos, who has nearly 2,000 flying hours, is in the initial cadre of F-35 instructors. He has worked with the Joint Strike Fighter Site Activation Task Force program.

- Eglin is scheduled to get some additional personnel because of a reorganization effort. Federal Computer World reported during the week that the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center will move about 70 personnel in the next 18 months to support its cyber operations. In addition to Eglin, other bases receiving the new personnel are Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

Military training
A team that works closely with Navy SEALs has moved into a new, $9.7 million complex at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Special Boat Team 22, which specializes in riverine missions, has grown in the last four years. There are 400 sailors assigned to SBT 22. It also operates a training school for foreign sailors.

- The Air Force Special Operations Command has wrapped up an exercise designed to train forces in combat scenarios. Emerald Warrior took place at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Training included troop insertions, air-ground support and convoy active-defense scenarios.

- Eglin officials and contractors are preparing to conduct visual surface surveys on private property in Santa Rosa County to ensure former weapon test ranges are clear of old munitions. Eglin sent right of entry requests to 13 private property owners in an area that was formerly part of now defunct Range 30, where aerial gunnery testing was conducted in the 1940s-50s.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is now at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft, slated to launch April 24, will spend at least one year in a low polar orbit on its primary lunar exploration mission, with the possibility of three more years to collect additional detailed scientific information about the moon and its environment. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are involved in the Constellation Program, the return of astronauts to the moon and beyond.

Passenger traffic at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport grew slightly in 2008 but still has not reached levels seen before Hurricane Katrina. Officials said that 7.9 million people passed through the Kenner airport in 2008, up 5.5 percent from 2007. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that a board created by the legislature to evaluate a possible state takeover of the city-owned airport is unlikely to be ready to offer a recommendation by this year's legislative session.

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