Saturday, January 21, 2012

Week in review (1/15 to 1/21)

More rumblings about a possible Airbus assembly plant in the United States, the arrival of another F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, AirTran switching to Southwest Airlines in Pensacola and plans by Stennis Space Center to show off its J-2X rocket engine program highlighted the aerospace news for the Gulf Coast during the week.

A top EADS official said Airbus, which already has final assembly lines in France, Germany and China, may add one in the United States to increase visibility in the largest market for single-aisle planes. The comment came from Hans Peter Ring, chief financial officer of EADS, in an interview with Bloomberg. (Post)

Of course, EADS/Airbus would have had an assembly line in Mobile, Ala., had it not lost the Air Force aerial refueling tanker competition to Boeing. But the loss of the tanker project never killed the belief that Mobile would eventually get an aircraft assembly plant.

Last September Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told the Birmingham News that EADS was looking into whether it was feasible to build commercial airplanes in Mobile. During the tanker competition, the company had said it also would build freighters in Mobile if it won the tanker contract.

Both Airbus and Boeing have been saying for a while now that the demand for airliners is increasing. That's one reason GE Aviation is building new facilities in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala. And the increasing activity likely is one reason Rolls-Royce is building a second engine test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss. More planes means more engines.

Aviation Week, in an article called "12 for '12," focused on a dozen big developments that will occur in the aerospace and defense industry in 2012. Two of them are linked to the uptick of orders from airliners.

The article pointed out that Airbus and Boeing won an estimated 2,150 net orders for new jets in 2011, with Airbus alone booking three orders for every jet it produces. The challenge will be fulfilling all of those sales, particularly among suppliers. The related big development is aerospace consolidations. United Technologies Corp.'s $18.4 billion purchase of Goodrich, which has a service center in Foley, Ala., is likely will pass regulatory muster and close by May. The question is whether Honeywell, General Electric or other aerospace giants will move to counter UTC's new "super supplier." (Article)

If you follow the aerospace industry, you can see the activity increasing. Even though Boeing is shutting down its plant in Wichita, Kan., in 2013, the Wichita Eagle reports that Boeing plans to increase the amount it spends with Kansas suppliers by 50 percent over the next three years, from $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion. (Article)

In addition, Airbus said it will add A350-1000 fuselage work to the wing engineering work it does at Wichita’s Airbus North American Engineering center. The Wichita Business Journal reports that it will mean 30 engineering jobs. (Article)

So buckle up. We're in for a pretty active 2012.

There was plenty of news during the week for anyone following the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. People along the Gulf Coast are interested because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the Integrated Training Center, the primary location to train pilots and maintainers for the plane.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta by the end of the week lifted the probation on the Marine Corps version of the F-35. The probation of the F-35B was put in place last year by then-Secretary Robert Gates because of technical issues of the most complex version of the single-seat jet fighter. (Post)

Coincidentally, a ninth F-35, this one the Marine Corps variant just mentioned, arrived at Eglin on Thursday after a flight from Texas. B-7, piloted Marine Corps Maj. Joseph Bachmann, is assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501. (Post)

Lockheed Martin is building three versions of the plane, the F-35A for the Air Force, the F-35C for the Navy and the F-35B for the Marines. Eglin now has three F-35B and six F-35As.

- The Air Force filed a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the establishment of a second F-35 pilot training center, and as expected Luke Air Force Base outside Phoenix, Ariz., is the preferred site. Plans are for 72 new F-35s at the base. The draft statement opened a 45-day public comment period ending March 14. A final decision is expected in July. (Article)

- Lockheed Martin is working on a solution to a problem with the tailhook on the Navy version of the F-35, the F-35C. Published reports said F-35C can't land on a carrier because the tailhook is too short, too close to the landing gear and can't grab arresting cables. Lockheed Martin said the problem is the design of the tailhook and a fix is underway. Tests will be done in the second quarter of the year. (Post)

The media has been invited to NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. to take a look Wednesday at the facilities used to test the J-2X engines that will be used with the Space Launch System. They'll see the test control center, the A-1 Test Stand and the facility where the final assembly is done on the J-2X. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Two members of Beale Air Force Base, Calif., became the first RQ-4 Global Hawk pilots in the new 18X career field during a winging Jan. 13. The new career field is designated for RPA pilots coming from non-rated career fields as well as newly commissioned officers. Portions of Global Hawks are built in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Pensacola International Airport's Air Tran will be converting to Southwest Airlines, which bought AirTran in May. The change will occur over the next several months. That will give the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor three airports served by Southwest. The other locations are in Panama City, Fla., and New Orleans. (Post)

- Emerald Coast Aviation has closed its operations at Florida's Destin Airport. It subleased services for Miracle Strip Aviation, one of two fixed-base operators at the airport. Emerald Coast Aviation handled aircraft maintenance and repairs and flight instructions for Miracle Strip Aviation. It's still operating in Crestview and at the airport in Valparaiso. (Post)

- The National Transportation Safety Board found a near-midair collision at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in June was likely caused by errors made by an air-traffic controller. The controller cleared a Cessna for takeoff and 16 seconds later cleared a Continental Express jet to take off on a different runway. While both aircraft were about 300 feet above the airfield the jet passed in front of the Cessna, coming as close as about 300 feet. (Post)

- The commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., issued a commentary during the week about the base's accomplishments in 2011. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant listed the arrival of the first F-35 fighter, bed down of the Army's 7th Special Forces Group, and the base's multiple excellence awards. (Post)