Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week in review (10/18 to 10/24)

The governors of Mississippi and Alabama have scheduled a briefing Monday in Bay Minette, Ala., to announce a new effort to promote the Gulf Coast's aerospace corridor. Its first order of business: land the Air Force refueling tanker project.

Alabama’s Bob Riley will be at Faulkner State Community College and he’ll be joined by Mississippi's Haley Barbour via satellite to announce the launch of a 501(c)(6) group designed to promote the four-state aerospace corridor.

The region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida has a long history in aviation. It’s where the Navy trained its first aviators, and where NASA began testing rocket engines in the 60s (details). But the contest pitting Boeing against Northrop Grumman and partner EADS to build aerial tankers has galvanized efforts to promote the region’s aerospace activities. EADS wants to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., a move that would also benefit Northwest Florida and South Mississippi.

There are now multiple efforts to highlight the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor or portions of the corridor. In Northwest Florida, three counties formed the Gulf Coast Aerospace and Defense Coalition, which promotes Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. In Alabama, the Mobile County Commission has its Keep Our Tanker site, a strong advocates for the tanker project.

Further to the west, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor highlights news and information about South Mississippi’s aerospace infrastructure. Even further to the west, Sen. David Vitter helped organize a group called the Stennis-Michoud Corridor, which wants to promote the 40-mile region between NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility and John C. Stennis Space Center.

And there's this site, Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor, which provides news and data about the full range of aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region.

- There was a fair amount of tanker-related news during the week. One of the more interesting: Reuters reported that Boeing declined a Pentagon request to release its pricing information from the last aerial tanker competition to Northrop Grumman. The Pentagon gave Boeing information on the winning bidders pricing after Boeing lost the contest in 2008 to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. That’s common. But Boeing’s protest of the award was upheld and the battle over the tanker contract has been renewed. That led Northrop to seek Boeing’s pricing information. A Pentagon general counsel told Northrop in a letter Sept. 23, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, that the Pentagon "sought Boeing's permission to release this information, and Boeing declined." The Pentagon has said the information is dated and irrelevant. It doesn’t appear Boeing feels the same.

- Reuters also reported during the week that industry executives are starting to raise questions about the Pentagon’s draft rules for the tanker, saying the bid for a "fixed-price" deal on such a big development program is unprecedented and risky. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are not saying much, but some executives are beginning to privately air concerns about the rules, according to Reuters.

- One of the key concerns about the Airbus tanker has been addressed, it seems. A Royal Australian Air Force A330 tanker, the same type EADS hopes to sell to the U.S. Air Force, conducted its first in-flight refueling. The test involved the integrated Aerial Refueling Boom System, which transferred fuel to two F-16. The test lasted four hours and 30 minutes.

- In the final tanker-related item, EADS North America announced during the week that former NASA leader Sean O'Keefe will become chief executive of EADS NA. Ralph Crosby, current chief executive of EADS North America, will stay on as nonexecutive chairman. O'Keefe is a former Navy secretary who served as NASA administrator from 2001 to 2005. He also served as chancellor of Louisiana State University from 2005-2008 and most recently was GE Aviation vice president. His EADS appointment is effective Nov. 1.

Aerospace parks
NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center next month will be formally recognized as a “Project Ready” site, a designation that indicates it is “shovel-ready” for new businesses that come calling. The Mississippi Power program was created last year and Stennis is the fifth site to receive the designation, and the first one to fall under the “technology park” category. The formal recognition is Nov. 6. In August, the Jackson County Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point, Miss., was awarded Project Ready status.

- Speaking of the Jackson County Aviation Technology Park, there as another item of interest during the week for Northrop Grumman workers at that park. The park is home to the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, which builds portions of the Global Hawk and Fire Scout unmanned systems. During the week, a much earlier version of the Global Hawk made its initial flight as a NASA vehicle, one that will be used for environmental science research. The fight was Friday at Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. NASA has two Global Hawks, both of which were among seven Global Hawks built and flown in the original Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. The aircraft that flew for about four hours Friday last took to the skies in May 2003.

Southwest Airlines plans to begin serving the new Panama City, Fla., airport, when the facility opens in May 2010. Three Florida cities, Panama City, Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, all hoped to get the discount airliner. Mobile, Ala., also made a pitch for the airliner.

- Frontier Airlines will return to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans next year for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, offering a daily service to Denver beginning June 15. In addition, Southwest Airlines, which trimmed New Orleans service after the hurricane, is adding two daily trips in May. One is a direct flight to St. Louis and the other is a second flight to Denver.

- The 708th Armament Systems Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been recognized for unprecedented acquisition management success with selection by the Department of Defense as the winner of 2009 David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award. The award singles out the group as the best acquisition team in the Air Force. The 708th delivered a new laser-guided version of the Joint Direct Attack Munition to warfighters in 11 months. The award will be presented Nov. 3.

Joint Strike Fighter
Okaloosa County commissioners received an introduction and update of the F-35 program during the week from J.R. McDonald, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of corporate and business development. McDonald, who moved to Okaloosa County a few months ago to oversee the company’s activities from Pensacola to Panama City, is the first vice president the company has stationed at its office in Shalimar. McDonald said he anticipated the first F-35 to arrive next summer, a few months later than the original March goal.

3Q reports
Goodrich Corp. saw profit and revenue continue to fall in the third quarter. The company had a profit of $145.4 million in the third quarter, down 13 percent from a high-water mark in the same quarter of 2008. … Teledyne Technologies profit per share hit a record in the third quarter, helped by cost cutting and a tax windfall. Total profit rose to $35.1 million, up 14 percent from $30.9 million in the same quarter of 2008. … Boeing Co. posted a third-quarter loss of $1.6 billion and reduced its full-year profit forecast, hurt by $3.5 billion in charges for the delayed 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet programs. … Northrop Grumman reported that third quarter 2009 earnings from continuing operations totaled $487 million compared with $509 million in the third quarter of 2008.

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