Saturday, November 19, 2011

Week in review (11/13 to 11/19)

Another test of a commercial rocket engine in Mississippi; moves by the Navy to buy land so it can extend runways at outlying fields in Alabama; reaction of businesses to an Air Force plan to build a hotel along a Florida beach; and a warning from the Defense Secretary that more cuts could hurt shipbuilding and the F-35 program highlighted Gulf Coast aerospace and defense news during the week. In addition, there were ample indications that the world's aerospace industry is continuing to grow.

Industry growth
It's a golden opportunity for this region.

Boeing and Airbus both expect a huge demand for passenger and cargo aircraft in the Middle East over the next 20 years. Boeing sees Middle East airlines needing some 2,520 airplanes worth $450 billion by 2030. The Airbus Global Market Forecast says the Middle East will need 1,921 new passenger and freighter by 2030 with a value of $347.4 billion.

The same market forecast by Airbus also said Latin America will require 2,028 new passenger aircraft of more than 100 seats between now and 2030, including 1,653 single-aisle, 334 twin-aisle and 41 very large aircraft with an estimated value of $197 billion.

Those are significant numbers, and it means a ramp-up of production for airframes and all the associated equipment, from engines to landing gear and more. While in the past this would have meant more work in the traditional aviation centers, today it means more work to spread around to a lot of locations. Boeing saw that increasing demand and hopes to open a 787 line in South Carolina.

A fact of life in the global aerospace industry is that locations worldwide play a role in the production of aircraft, with suppliers near and far sending components to the facility where the plane is actually assembled. That's the case with the Boeing 787 and the military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This increasing global demand for next-generation commercial aircraft means new facilities likely will have to be built. Just look at what GE Aviation is doing. It has a new plant in Batesville, Miss., and is now building two more facilities, one in Hattiesburg, Miss., and another in Auburn, Ala.

But for any region, the Holy Grail of the aerospace industry is landing an assembly facility. Economic development leaders in the region know that, and that's why there was such a big effort to back EADS' bid to build Air Force tankers in Mobile, Ala. Landing the plant would have been a watershed event for the Gulf Coast, likely supercharging the growth of the region.

As pointed out by Site Selection magazine, new markets are emerging as centers of aircraft production. Airbus opened its joint venture A320 facility in 2008 in Tianjin, China, where production of the airliner is ramping up to meet demand in China and the rest of Southeast Asia. There's every reason to believe Mobile could eventually resurface as a location for an assembly plant.

Interesting to note is that in the past, another location in the Gulf Coast region, this one near Stennis Space Center, Miss., also has been a finalist at least twice in the past in competition for a large aircraft assembly plants. Imagine, if you will, two aircraft assembly plants.

We've been told the aerospace industry didn't suffer as much as many industries in the recession, and that growth is in the cards. Speakers at the Aerospace Alliance Summit in Sandestin, Fla., in September pointed that out, and said the region has to get ready, notably in making sure it has the workers. An Airbus official said there would be a worldwide demand for 26,000 new commercial aircraft, and an official from GE Aviation pointed out that the company is opening new facilities in Mississippi and Alabama because of the backlog and expected growth.

The Dubai Air Show during the week underscores that prediction of growth.

The United Arab Emirates ordered 50 aircraft powered by two GE90-115B engines. GE Aviation officials said the order will have an impact on multiple GE Aviation operations nationwide, including the 258-worker GE Aviation plant in Batesville, Miss., who manufacture composite engine parts -- fan stator, acoustic panels and fan platforms -- for the GE90. GE Aviation is also building a composite engine parts facility in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala.

Because of increased demand, the Goodrich Aerostructures plant in Foley, Ala., hosted a job fair over Saturday to find workers to construct housing for Airbus engines. Baldwin County’s largest industrial employer, with 800 employees at the site, Goodrich is looking to hire 40 workers who have experience in heavy construction, automotive, sheet metal or heating/air conditioning. The Mobile Press-Register reports that in the apprenticeship, workers would learn to construct a nacelle, the cover housing that encases the engine for the Airbus A320. The new jobs came about because of increased demand.

And one more indicator came through ECN Magazine during the week. It reported that North Eastern Aeronautical Company Inc., NEANY, plans to open a new office in Niceville, Fla. The research, design, test and evaluation firm specializes in unmanned aerial systems, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, sensors and electro-optics. It also has offices in Patuxent River, Md., Arlington, Va., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

"With Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases, the Pensacola Naval Air Station, and numerous universities all located in the panhandle, I believe the area is a perfect fit for NEANY," said company president Steven Steptoe.

Engineers at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center , Miss., conducted a test firing on an Aerojet AJ26 flight engine late in the week at the E-1 Test Stand. Orbital Sciences Corp. is testing the engines for commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station. (Post)

AJ26 engines will be used to power Orbital's Taurus II rocket. Orbital is part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract. After the engines are tested, inspected and the test data is reviewed, the engines are shipped to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for installation on the Taurus II rocket.

- NASA is one of the best places to work in the federal government, according to a survey
released during the week. NASA, which has operations at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is ranked No. 5 among 308 federal agencies.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden acknowledge Stennis Space Center, ranked second overall among the federal organizations. "I'm particularly proud that Stennis was ranked first in the government for employee empowerment, fairness and support for diversity," Bolden said.

The Departments of the Navy, Army and Air Force -- which have bases scattered throughout the Gulf Coast -- are ranked 15, 16 and 18, respectively. The survey was done by Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization. (Post)

- U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank became during the week the first American to fly to the International Space Station since the retirement of space shuttle fleet. Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin launched Sunday (Monday Kazakhstan time) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA is paying the Russian Federal Space Agency $1.5 billion to fly U.S. and partner nation astronauts while waiting for U.S. commercial companies to begin round-trip supply missions, likely no earlier than 2016. (Post)

Military cuts
Two military programs of high interest to the Gulf Coast, shipbuilding and the F-35, could be at risk with additional defense cuts, according to a report by Bloomberg. In a letter to Sens. John McCain Lindsey Graham, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said reductions beyond the $450 billion, 10-year defense budget cuts already planned would reduce the size of the military sharply. (Post)

According to Panetta, if a special committee of lawmakers fails to reach agreement by Nov. 23 on deficit reduction, that would trigger a so-called sequestration that would involve at least another $500 billion in defense cuts over a decade and cut military programs in 2013 by 23 percent.

In the worst-case scenario, in addition to the F-35 and shipbuilding, other programs that face termination include space initiatives, silo-based nuclear missiles and ground combat vehicle modernization. The F-35 training center is at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., while Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss., and Mobile, Ala., build ships for the military.

After getting the letter, McCain, R-Ariz., and Graham, R-S.C., pointed to the dire description of the impact of further cuts as the latest evidence that up to $600 billion in automatic defense spending cuts "should not be allowed to occur." (Post)

- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is urging the congressional deficit-reduction super committee to consider closing unneeded overseas bases, rather than slashing force structure or weapons systems. Last year, the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission estimated that responsible overseas base closings could save taxpayers $8.5 billion through 2015.

The Navy has begun efforts to buy property needed to expand two Baldwin County, Ala., airfields to accommodate new training aircraft. Work is scheduled to start next summer to extend four runways, two at Barin Field in Foley and two at Summerdale Field, according to the Mobile Press-Register.

The runways are needed to accommodate the T-6A, which is replacing the T-34 training aircraft. The Navy operates several outlying fields in Baldwin County for training flights out of Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. (Post)

- Resort owners who will be competing against a proposed hotel on Air Force land on Okaloosa Island are raising some concerns. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, they're concerned about the bidding process, and whether other Eglin holdings on the island might end up on the market. The $24 million hotel is to be built, owned and run by the developers, though the land will remain in military hands. (Post)

Unmanned systems
The editors of Popular Science magazine selected the U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System to receive a 2011 Best of What's New award in the Aviation and Space category. The award was formally announced in the magazine's December issue.

Two tailless, autonomous X-47B unmanned aircraft are currently undergoing testing. The X-47B is designed to operate from a Navy aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt and Whitney, Eaton, GE, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins. (Post)

Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., has been successfully deployed aboard Navy ships.

Science and technology
The Office of Naval Research during the week released the latest update to the Naval Science and Technology Strategic Plan. It reflects future naval requirements, including a new emphasis on autonomous systems.

"Our superiority at sea demands that we maintain superiority in science, engineering and technology," said Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

Key areas of difference between the 2011 biannual plan and the 2009 version include a new emphasis on accelerating insertion of mature technologies to the fleet and consolidation of 13 "S&T Focus Areas" into nine, including a new category, autonomy and unmanned systems.

The plan also places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives aimed at increasing the talent pool of future naval scientists and engineers. (Post)

Huntington Ingalls' sixth amphibious transport dock, San Diego, LPD 22, successfully completed its Navy acceptance trial during the week. The ship returned to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Thursday after a two-day sea trial that included testing the ship's main propulsion, steering, communications suite and deck missions systems. Ingalls will spend the next month putting the final touches on LPD 22 before it's delivered in mid-December. (Post)

- Workers at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., late in the week received flyers outlining terms of a proposed 3-year contract extension between all unions at the Pascagoula facility and the shipyard. The extension would take the contract to March 8, 2015 and includes three wage increases and a $1,000 bonus in lieu of cost of living adjustments. Union members vote Dec. 1. (Post)

- Signal International will repair an oil rig damaged off the coast of west Africa. A crew was sent to Gabon to help transport the Hercules 185 jack-up rig across the Atlantic Ocean to the company's Pascagoula, Miss., repair yard. Signal will hire up to 300 workers over the next month or two to complete the job and others. (Post)

- VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Miss., and Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, Fla., each was chosen to build eight offshore supply vessels for Covington, La.-based Hornbeck Offshore Services. Hornbeck's contracts with the two companies for 16 vessels is valued at some $720 million. (Post)

- The keel was laid during the week for the first Zumwalt-class destroyer, DDG 1000, at General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine. The ceremonial event marks the start of the ship's construction, though work has been going on since 2009 to fabricate the ship, which is modular in design. The ship is more than 60 percent complete. Ingalls' Composites Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss., is building the DDG's deckhouses, helicopter hangars and parts of the ships' peripheral vertical launch systems. (Post)