Saturday, January 7, 2012

Week in review (1/1 to 1/7)

The story out of Wichita, Kan., this past week had nothing to do with the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor per se, but in the long run it will. Less than a year after Kansas, along with Washington state, celebrated Boeing winning the contract to built tankers, Wichita learned it will play no role in the tanker, and in fact, will be losing its Boeing plant.

Boeing has been a part of the Wichita landscape for more than 80 years, and Kansas politicians stood with Boeing when it was competing against EADS to build Air Force tankers. That was understandable. Kansas wanted the more than 7,000 jobs expected to come to Kansas with a Boeing win.

But today the folks in Kansas are likely wondering how things can change so much in less than a year. Boeing, which began studying the 2 million square-foot, 97-building facility in mid-2011, blames it on cuts to the nation's defense budget and high overhead costs at the Wichita plant, where it has more than 2,000 workers. The Boeing study found Wichita's costs are 70 percent higher than San Antonio's, according to the Kansas City Star.

Certainly Mobile, Ala., can understand the feelings of the folks from Kansas. It knows all too well what it's like to have felt something was won, only to turn around and have it taken away. Mobile in 2008 celebrated when the Air Force announced EADS would build its tankers. Visions of a new aircraft assembly facility danced in their head. But Boeing protested and the contest was redone. The winner of the next fight was Boeing.

One of the ironies in all this is that while Boeing is leaving Wichita, the company it fought so long for the tanker contract is staying. EADS has an engineering operation in Wichita, like it does in Mobile. Guy Hicks, EADS North America communications and government-relations chief, told The Hill his firm has no intention of leaving Wichita.

No doubt the folks in Wichita would love to see another aerospace company come in and take over the Boeing plant. That happened in 2005 when Boeing sold its commercial aircraft division in Wichita. The buyer renamed it Spirit AeroSystems. The Kansas City Star wrote that Brazilian jet maker Embraer could be a buyer, according to Chris Kuehl, a managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence in Kansas City, Kan.

If Kuehl is right about Embraer, that would add another weird twist. Embraer was recently chosen to supply A-29 Super Tucano turboprops for a U.S. partnership program with Afghanistan and other nations. The 20 light attack aircraft will be built in Jacksonville, Fla., but that contract is now on hold because of a suit filed by, you guessed it, Hawker Beechcraft of Wichita. Its AT-6 was excluded from the competition. That's the same Hawker Beechcraft that flirted with moving to Louisiana.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is promising aggressive attempts to attract new commercial aviation work, even mentioning Boeing rival Airbus, according to one story. For the folks on the Gulf Coast, who established a relationship with EADS/Airbus during the tanker competition, it may be a bit of a concern knowing that the Boeing facility will go on the market. But the cost of doing business will always remain a major factor.

One lesson that should come out of this is that loyalty for a past job well done is not a factor in a global environment where competitive advantage is crucial and the bottom line is paramount. Publicly traded companies like Boeing have to answer to shareholders.

During the week the new U.S. military strategy was announced. It calls for a leaner military, reducing lower-priority forces and duplicative operations and ending the practice of maintaining a force that can fight and win on two fronts.

The new strategy streamlines the military in an era of tighter budgets and reassesses defense priorities in light of China's rise and other global changes. The report calls for investments in special forces and technological innovation, including cyber defense.

Some leaders on Capitol Hill were critical. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said it's not the strategy for a superpower but "more a menu for mediocrity." Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the announcement sends a signal to friend and foe alike about "America's diminished ability to project power on a global scale." The Gulf Coast region has multiple military bases, including those involved in cyber security and special operations. (Post)

- The Defense Department will be required to provide Congress two weeks notice before cutting by more than 1,000 the number of military personnel at an installation, under language in the final version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill approved by Congress last month. DoD also will need to submit a justification and evaluation of the local strategic and operational impact of the reduction in forces. The requirement will not apply during a BRAC round. (Post)

The Air Force postponed until 2013 where at the Eglin reservation F-35 training will take place and which runways will be used, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. The reassessment of the impact of flight training is due to changes in how aircraft will be used, including the number and types of takeoffs, landing and sorties. The first Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in 2010 listed Duke Field, Choctaw Field and Eglin main as possible locations. (Post)

- The Pentagon is set to restructure F-35 program for a third time in three years, sources told Reuters, with production of more than 120 planes delayed to save money and allow more development time. But international orders will help ease the impact on Lockheed Martin. Japan plans to buy 42 F-35s and Bloomberg reported that Turkey will  buy two. Israel also said it would buy F-35s. (Post)

Saudi Arabia's deal to buy 84 F-15SA fighters and upgrade its 70 F-15S aircraft will bring additional students to three bases in the Gulf Coast: Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The Saudi students also will train at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., and will receive English language training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. This year the service expects to train more than 300 Saudi airmen under the agreement. (Post)

The Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., is celebrating 35 years of accreditation by the Council on Occupational Education. CNATT provides operational and maintenance training, ranging from avionics repair to flight deck operations and more. (Post)

The Blue Angels are back in El Centro, Calif., for winter training, according to the Imperial Valley Weekly. The flight demonstration squadron left their home base at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Tuesday and arrived at El Centro after a three-hour flight. The team will train in Southern California over the next couple of months. (Post)

Spaceflight during the week had a detailed story about the military' successful effort to save the more than $1 billion Advanced Extremely High Frequency 1 satellite after it failed to launch into geosynchronous orbit in 2010. Debris in the propellant line prevented the Liquid Apogee Engine from firing, keeping the satellite in the transfer orbit. But it was coaxed into orbit months later thanks to engineering creativity. he Lockheed Martin AEHF satellite's core propulsion module is built at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Florida-based Signature Flight Support Corp. acquired Azalea Aviation's operations at Mobile Regional Airport and Downtown Air Center at Brookley Aeroplex from Taylor and Harris Morrissette. The Mobile Press-Register reports that Taylor Morrissette will remain with Signature to oversee the two centers. Azalea Aviation has fueling infrastructure and more than 100,000 square feet of hangar space between its two locations. (Post)

- U.S. Airways is expanding jet service in Northwest Florida with three new flights beginning March 25. The airline will provide two daily nonstop flights from Pensacola International Airport and one daily flight from Fort Walton Beach's Northwest Florida Regional Airport to Washington Reagan National Airport. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Congress set aside $191 million for the Navy to buy a dozen long-range variants of the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. Called the Fire-X during development, the Fire Scout MQ-8C uses a Bell 407 airframe in place of the smaller Schweizer 333 of the MQ-8B. The newer Fire Scout uses many of the systems of the smaller version, which is now a part of the Navy fleet. The MQ-8B version is built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

United Technologies
United Technologies made some bold business moves in 2011, analysts say. It acquired Goodrich, creating a "super-supplier" with a vast product line, and unveiled a joint venture between subsidiary Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce. One analyst said the Goodrich buy is a sizable bet on commercial aerospace. (Post) Goodrich operates the Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala.; Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne assembles and tests rocket engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Rolls-Royce tests commercial aircraft engines at SSC.

United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $194 million advance acquisition contract for long lead components, parts, and materials required for the delivery of 37 propulsion systems for the Lot VI F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. It includes 18 conventional take-off and landing for the Air Force, six short take-off and vertical landing for the Marine Corps, seven carrier variant for the Navy; four CTOL for the Italian Air Force, two CTOL for the Royal Australian Air Force and associated spares. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. ... Raytheon Co., El Segundo, Calif., was awarded an $11 million contract for robust navigation technology. This contract supports anti-jamm Global Positioning system development for the High Velocity Penetrating Weapon Program. AFRL/RWK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.