Saturday, July 23, 2011

Week in review (7/17 to 7/23)

The arrival of the second F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the first Euro Hawk in Germany, the successful final flight of the space shuttle, the announcement of a new aerospace startup in Mobile, Ala., and a change of command were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week.

But one of the most significant news items during the week was the decision by American Airlines to order 200 Boeing 737s and 260 Airbus A320s for its fleet. It may be the opening salvo of a stream of new orders for more efficient jets, and that may cause EADS to dust off plans for a new assembly facility in Mobile, Ala.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline is ordering 460 new single-aisle planes from U.S.-based Boeing and Europe's Airbus in a deal valued at more than $38 billion. It includes options and purchase rights for 465 additional planes through 2025.

Airbus has not sold new planes to American Airlines in more than two decades. The company retired its last Airbus in 2009. So for Airbus, the order is a significant coup for the company that each year buys components worth $10 billion from U.S. suppliers.

Industry analysts think Airbus may have to raise production rates on its A320 family line to as many as 60 aircraft a month in the second half of the decade if more major orders come in. Airbus can't achieve that by expanding its Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; or Tianjin, China lines. That would open the door to a U.S.-based final assembly line late in the decade. (Story)

The obvious choice for such a plant would be Mobile, where EADS planned to assemble military tankers and A330 freighters had it won the hotly contested Air Force contract. EADS already does business in Mobile; Airbus employs 150 at an engineering center in Brookley Aeroplex, and Airbus military operates an aircraft maintenance and training facility for the U.S. Coast Guard at Mobile Regional Airport.

Ralph Crosby, chairman of EADS North America, has said in the past that the company "could have made no better choice" than to come to the Gulf Coast. "The partnerships we've formed are real and they are enduring ... The fact is, as far as EADS is concerned, Mobile is at the top of the list for any commercial production we might establish in America."

We'll keep an eye out as this story develops in the coming months and years.

While on the topic of Mobile, AeroStar Inc., a startup located at the Brookley Aeroplex, plans to repair and overhaul hydraulic and pneumatic airplane components. The company is led by a former sales executive for Fokker Airinc, a components repair firm in Fairhope, Ala. The company wants to employ 10 people by the end of the year. The 8,000 square-foot building that AeroStar renovated on the south end of Michigan Avenue could hold up to 25 employees.

Space shuttle Atlantis landed safely at Florida's Kennedy Space Center early Thursday. The 135th flight marked the end of three decades of service. The shuttle and its four crew members touched down at 5:56 a.m. after a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. All shuttle main engines were tested at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and the external fuel tanks were built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Unmanned systems
The Euro Hawk unmanned aerial system, built in part in Mississippi, was delivered to the German Bundeswehr late in the week. The signals intelligence aircraft is based on the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. It took off Wednesday from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for the flight to Manching Air Base, Germany.

The Euro Hawk will carry a new SIGINT mission system developed by EADS Deutschland, which will be integrated in Manching. Delivery of the first demonstrator to the Bundeswehr is scheduled for mid-2012, with another four systems scheduled tentatively between 2015 and 2017.

Euro Hawk is the first international version of the RQ-4, which has been serving the U.S. military for a number of years. The second international version will be NATO’s AGS. The Euro Hawk was built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Lockheed Martin's second F-35A Lightning II production jet arrived during the week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., less than a week after delivery of the first jet to the base in Northwest Florida. Marine Corps Maj. Joseph T. "OD" Bachmann piloted the aircraft, known as AF-8, arriving at 11:50 a.m. CDT.

AF-8 joins AF-9, which Lockheed Martin delivered to the 33rd Fighter Wing the previous week after a flight from Fort Worth, Texas. The jets will be used for training F-35 pilots and maintainers who are slated to begin course work at the base's new F-35 Integrated Training Center this fall.

The 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had a change of command late in the week. Col. Colin Miller took command from Col. Michael Brewer. Miller has served as an operational pilot in the F-15C and F-117, and as a test pilot in the F-15C, F-15E, F-16, and F-22. Brewer relinquished command after serving two years with the 46th Test Wing and more than 25 years with the Air Force.

- The 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will have a change of command July 26. Col. David Hicks will take command of the wing from Col. Michael Gantt at 8:53 a.m. in Hangar 102. The 53rd Wing serves as the focal point for the Combat Air Forces in electronic warfare, armament and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance, and aircrew training devices. The wing is also responsible for operational testing and evaluation of new equipment and systems.

- Three regional airports in Mississippi - Greenville, Tupelo and Hattiesburg - are among 24 small markets that face losing service from Delta Air Lines. The company said it's lost $14 million a year serving the 24 airports because of insufficient passenger loads.

Service to 16 of the 24 airports is subsidized by the federal Essential Air Service program. Weak demand in some markets led to flights occasionally operating with no passengers on board. Greenville has a 27.6 percent load factor, Tupelo 41 percent and Hattiesburg has a 53.7 percent. The Department of Transportation is now looking for alternative carriers.

- Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport has received this year's Florida Department of Transportation Airport Project of the Year Award. The award was handed out at the annual conference of the Florida Airport Council.

It recognized the project for its "significant contribution to airport development, sustainability, efficiency, capacity and/or safety," according to the award nomination criteria. The airport near West Bay opened May 23, 2010, to replace the smaller airport in Panama City.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: General Dynamics - Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was awarded a $10 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to existing previously awarded basic ordering agreement to provide engineering and management services for advance planning and design in support of the post shakedown availability for USS Independence (LCS 2). Eight percent of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala. … New ship construction will be returning to the site of the former Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co., officials with BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards said. The company said it will partner with Netherlands-based IHC Merwede to build offshore oil vessels at BAE's yards in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile. BAE has about 800 workers at its Mobile yard now, but could grow by 400 in the coming years because of the agreement.