Saturday, April 25, 2009

Week in review (4/18 to 4/25)

The star of the show during the week was no doubt the first landing of an F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., but perhaps the most significant activity was movement in the competition to build the next generation of Air Force tankers. The push to split the tanker project between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team appears to be moving into high gear.

During the week Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, signaled he’s giving serious consideration to a proposal that would split the contract between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS. And Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., also called for a split buy as the best way to move the stalled program. Others, including John Murtha of Pennsylvania, have previously voiced support for the split contract.

Then Boeing's top defense executive said the company would support splitting the contract if the Pentagon opts for that approach. That was a big deal since Boeing had been mum up to that point. Northrop Grumman and EADS had previously said they would go along with a split deal, though EADS has a caveat that it has to be able to build at least 12 tankers a year in Mobile, Ala., where it plans to build an assembly plant. That’s the only way the investment would make sense, said CEO Louis Gallois.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has opposed the split deal as being too costly. He said recently that he’d through his body on the tracks before letting that happen. The Air Force considers replacing the tanker fleet a high priority.

After meeting with Gates during the week, Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions said they would lift their hold on Ashton Carter, the nominee for Under Secretary of Defense and Acquisition. Carter was confirmed late in the week.

The two senators met with Gates to discuss the controversial contract. Shelby, who said he wants to contract to go to the best value rather than based on price alone, said Gates echoed the desire to deliver the best airplane to troops. That was apparently enough for both Shelby and Sessions.

The split contract is the only thing that makes sense at this point. It would help the job situation in Washington State and Kansas, and also bring new jobs that hadn’t existed before to Mobile and the broader Gulf Coast. EADS has also indicated it will build cargo planes in Mobile if it wins the contract, something that certainly couldn’t sit well with Boeing since the last thing it wants is to have its rival with an assembly plant in the United States. EADS has made it clear it plans to compete against Boeing in a number of military platforms. It’s Lakota helicopter, being built in Columbus, Miss., is already making a name for itself as deliveries continue on schedule.

- Speaking of EADS North America’s rotary effort, the company will hold a press conference May 4 during the Army Aviation Association of America Convention in Nashville, Tenn. The news conference is to announce the formation of a new rotary-wing industry team. The AAAA convention is at Gaylord Opryland Convention Center.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
A Joint Strike Fighter designated AA-1 landed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the first time during the week. The F-35 visit gave local mayors, county commissioners and school board members an opportunity to see the plane that has been the focal point of several lawsuits. The city of Valparaiso wants to stop the Air Force from establishing a JSF training center at the base, but the county is suing the city to get it to drop its suit.

- The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin suggested that cyber-attacks had not caused any serious security breaches in the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Defense and corporate officials said attacks on the Pentagon as well as the F-35 program are constant. The comments came in response to a Wall Street Journal story reporting that cyber-attackers copied and siphoned off data related to design and electronics systems.

Delays in establishing a clear space policy may have made NASA plans to narrow the post-shuttle "gap" in U.S. human access to space out of date even before implementation. A Constellation Program Acceleration Study released during the week finds the U.S. space agency $1.9 billion short of the funds it needs to meet an internal initial operational capability target date of September 2014. The Michoud Assembly Facility and National Center for Advanced Manufacturing, both in New Orleans, and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are all involved in the Constellation Program.

- Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has begun its first friction stir weld process on an Orion crew module ground test article at Michoud. The ground test article will help validate the process and tools that will be used for all crew module welds. The weld system is part of the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing, managed by the University of New Orleans Foundation in partnership with NASA and Louisiana.

Good news and bad
It was bad news for some aerospace workers in Mobile, Ala., when Teledyne Continental Motors said during the week that it will cut the hours of its employees as the maker of piston airplane engines struggles with low demand. The company, which has 400 workers at Brookley Industrial Complex, is putting employees on four-day weeks. There’s also a chance it will close entirely for five weeks during the rest of the year.

But there was some good news as well on the job front - or at least the potential of good news. In Gulf Breeze, Fla., that town on a peninsula south of Pensacola is in the running against Georgia for an avionics company and 37 or more jobs. The company, which manufacturers and designs aviation-related equipment, has been promised state tax discounts, and Gulf Breeze would be both a manufacturing site and headquarters. TEAM Santa Rosa, the economic development group for the county, is being mum on details beyond that.

After 22 years as director of Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, Frank Miller is stepping down to become on May 18 the aviation director in San Antonio, Texas. Miller will oversee day-to-day operations at the San Antonio International Airport and its $500 million expansion project.

- Bird strikes at Louis Armstrong International Airport showed a six-fold increase between 2007 and 2008, but the number of serious strikes remained steady over the past 18 years, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released Friday. Officials said the jump indicates the airport is doing a better job reporting strikes.

- Next month the name Northwest Airlines will begin fading from view at Alabama’s Mobile Regional Airport as Pinnacle Airlines Corp. stops providing ground services for its three daily round trips to Memphis. Beginning May 12 passengers on Northwest will check in at the Delta Air Lines ticketing desk and board at one of Delta's two gates at the airport.

- Hurlburt Field, Fla., home of U.S. Air Force Special Operations, won the Commander In Chief's 2009 Installation Excellence Award. Hurlburt previously won the award, established in 25 years ago, in 2003. The award includes a $1 million prize to be used to improve quality of life on the base.

Fire Scout vs the pirates?
Rich Smith, in a Motley Fool column during the week, took on the issue of the pirates and discussed some of the options that have been discussed. His? He suggested Fire Scouts, saying the technology "seems admirably suited to expanding search capabilities at sea."

Smith points out that the Navy is testing the system, and "Seems to me, the African coast would be a dandy place to put the Fire Scout through its paces." He also said another UAV maker that could benefit AeroVironment and its Aqua Puma UAV, capable of landing on water. Northrop builds portions of the Fire Scouts in Moss Point, Miss., and AeroVironment has an operation in Navarre, Fla. (Column)

Ditched plane
A vintage dive bomber pulled from Lake Michigan will be restored at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla., and go on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The Douglas SBD Dauntless was on a training mission in 1944 when it was ditched and found in the mid-1990s 20 miles from shore.

1Q reports
Goodrich reported an increase in first-quarter net income to $170 million, up from earnings of $158 million a year ago. Sales fell 2.8 percent to nearly $1.7 billion in the latest quarter. Goodrich operates a maintenance center in Foley, Ala. … Raytheon reported first quarter 2009 income from continuing operations of $457 million compared to $401 million in the first quarter 2008. Net sales for the first quarter 2009 were $5.9 billion, up 10 percent from $5.4 billion in the first quarter 2008. Raytheon has operations along the Gulf Coast. … Northrop Grumman reported that first quarter 2009 earnings from continuing operations increased 48 percent to $389 million compared with $263 million in the first quarter of 2008. First quarter 2008 earnings were reduced by a pre-tax charge of $326 million in the company's Shipbuilding sector. Northrop Grumman has multiple operations along the Gulf Coast. … Teledyne Technologies reported first quarter 2009 sales of $440.3 million, compared with sales of $451.8 million for the same period of 2008. Net income for the first quarter of 2009 was $20.8 million compared with net income of $27.9 million in the first quarter of 2008. Teledyne Continental in Mobile, Ala., is part of Teledyne Technologies. … Boeing reported first quarter net income of $0.6 billion. Revenue rose 3 percent to $16.5 billion on higher commercial airplane deliveries and higher volume in defense. Boeing has operations in New Orleans and Northwest Florida. … Lockheed Martin reported first quarter 2009 net earnings of $666 million compared to $730 million in 2008. Net sales for the first quarter of 2009 were $10.4 billion, compared to $10.0 billion in 2008. Lockheed Martin has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast region.

Three contracts with ties to the Gulf Coast region were announced during the week. Two contracts for the Global Hawk were awarded to Northrop Grumman. In one, the Air Force awarded a $21.6 million contract to provide advance procurement of low rate initial production Lot nine selected long lead items required to meet the production schedule of two Global Hawk Block 30 and three Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicles as well as the selected long lead items for the ASIP sensors. In the other, the company was awarded an $8.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide additional operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration. Global Hawks are made in part in Moss Point, Miss. … Lockheed Martin was awarded a $5.6 million contract for engineering and technical support in the integration of Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures Systems into a MH-60S helicopter. Half of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla.

New on the site
Finally, we made a few adjustments to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor news section, where we include a navigation bar that provides you with aerospace-related news releases and stories from a variety of sources. We dropped Prime Newswire since it duplicates the feed of Global Newswire, and also dropped NASA's Constellation Program news feeds since it's rarely updated and includes information found on the NASA feed. But we added a feed from Stennis Space Center, Miss., an Air Force news feed from and the weekly feeds from Wharton Aerospace & Defense Report. We welcome any feedback - no pun intended.

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