Saturday, June 30, 2012

Week in review (6/23 to 6/30)

There was a lot of aerospace activity in this region during the week, as usual. But it was all overshadowed by the reports that Europe's Airbus will announce Monday that it plans to build a multimillion-dollar aircraft assembly plant in Mobile, Ala.

A quote from Calvin Coolidge came to mind: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Officials in Mobile might have that quote hanging up on the wall somewhere. If not, they should. It's the old pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in there approach to life. And Mobile, which initially thought it would get a tanker assembly plant in 2008 only to have the rug pulled out, showed precisely that quality.

At least one of Mobile's neighbors recognized that determination. Robert Ingram, who heads up the economic development group in Baldwin County, said he was proud of his frequent partners for their "never-say-die attitudes."

While everyone has been mum since the New York Times broke the story during the week, some additional information has leaked out. A report from Reuters said 2,500 construction jobs will be created and it will be a $600 million investment in an assembly line that will make four of the 150-seat A320s a month beginning in 2017. The Mobile Press-Register has reported the line will eventually build the fuel-efficient A320neo.

Local television station news teams were all over the story.

The Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce has been mum, but on Friday sent out invitations for Monday's "exciting" 10 a.m. economic development announcement "that will significantly impact the Mobile area, state of Alabama and the entire Gulf Coast region." The announcement doesn’t say what it is, of course. Published reports have said Fabrice Bregier, Airbus' president and CEO, will be in Mobile for the Mobile Convention Center announcement.

For those who follow aerospace activities, it was well-known that Airbus has wanted an aircraft assembly plant in the United States for some time now. It's a huge market, and Airbus parent EADS has been sending out signals for some time now that it intended to come to the home turf of its biggest rival, Boeing.

There's little doubt the addition of an airliner assembly plant will provide a major boost to the economy of Mobile. And for Alabama, already known for the significant aerospace activities in Huntsville, it will give the state yet another claim to aerospace fame. Along the coastal area, the assembly plant will add a new capability to an already active Gulf Coast aerospace region. For all three, it promises to be a watershed event. (Post)

-- No doubt the Airbus decision will be a major topic of discussion during the July 9-15 Farnborough air show. When officials from Mobile and Pensacola are at the show talking up the Gulf Coast region, they'll no doubt put on a great show of unity. But relations may be a bit strained between Mobile and Pensacola, Fla.

The Mobile Press-Register broke a story during the week saying that this past spring, officials from Pensacola traveled to Mobile courting ST Aerospace Mobile, a 1,000-employee aerospace company that's called Mobile home for many years. How this should be read depends entirely on how the meeting came about.

If Pensacola went behind Mobile's back trying to lure a company, then it's an unseemly move to make against a neighbor. But it's also possible ST Aerospace initiated the contact. Then you could argue Pensacola did the right thing trying to keep a major aerospace employer in the region. Better here than in, say, Wichita.

But neither the company nor Pensacola's mayor commented to the Press-Register.

Leaders across the Gulf Coast talk glowingly about regional cooperation, and attempts have been made to work together through formal groups. But when push comes to shove, it's your own back yard that's a priority, and understandably so.

Regionalism works when all parties are working together toward a common goal, like bringing in a major new project that increases the assets of the region, or cooperating to protect what's already here, like military bases. It falls apart if you covet or appear to covet what's in your neighbor's yard. (Post)

Unmanned aerial vehicles
Florida is among the states interested in landing one of six unmanned aerial system test sites that will have the goal of finding ways to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

Space Florida's board recently approved spending up to $1.4 million to try to win one of the sites Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to establish by the end of the year. Right now, drones can only fly in military airspace and locations that have received FAA Certificates of Authorization. (Post)

-- Here's an item that shows precisely why the FAA is looking for test sites before the wholesale incorportion of drones into the nation's airspace.

With about $1,000 of equipment, students from the University of Texas in Austin hijacked a small drone. With Department of Homeland Security officials watching, students from the Radionavigation Laboratory created a GPS controller, aimed it at the small drone and took it over.

It's a process called spoofing, where a signal from a hacker imitates the one sent to the drone's on-board GPS. People who are leery about drones have cited by privacy and safety concerns. Tests like this are crucial so we can resolve these issues now. (Toronto Sun, Daily Mail)

-- While on the subject of controlling drones, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., held an industry day during the week in advance of a pending Request for Proposals for systems engineering and software engineering support for custom software to operate unmanned aircraft.

The pre-solicitation notice said the software will be for the automated control of full-scale and sub-scale aerial targets as part of the Gulf Range Drone Control System. The contractor will do the work at the Central Control Facility at Eglin, but support may be required at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., White Sands Missile Range, N.M., or the Utah Test and Training Range or other locations. (Post)

-- The guided missile frigate USS Klakring left Mayport, Fla., on Friday with a record four Fire Scout unmanned helicopters for a six-month deployment. The drones, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., will operate up to 12 hours daily, testing their ability to linger in the air for long periods to provide real-time surveillance. (Post)

Strike ends
Machinists voted during the week to end the 10-week strike at Lockheed Martin. It was thumbs up by a wide margin: 1,873 to 447, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The strike involved workers at a fighter jet plant in Fort Worth, along with sites at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

About 3,600 workers went on strike over proposed changes in health benefits and a Lockheed plan to stop offering a traditional pension to newly hired workers. The plant builds F-35s and F-16s. The strike was of interest to this region because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Story)

At Eglin Air Force Base, a weapons flight commander with the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for action May 2, 2011 in Afghanistan. Maj. John Caldwell, at the time a captain piloting an F-16, responded to an ambush on a special operations team that was taking casualties. The DFC narration said the presence of Caldwell prevented a catastrophic loss of American lives and directly turned the tide of this engagement. (Post)

-- Questions have been raised about whether the developer of a hotel on land owned by Eglin Air Force Base will have to pay property taxes. The Emerald Breeze Resort Group signed a 50-year deal with the Air Force under the enhanced use leasing program to build and manage a resort on Okaloosa Island, home to a number of hotels that pay the tax since they are not on Air Force land. Hotels that pay the tax are afraid they’ll be at a disadvantage. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $34 million contract to procure electronic protection improvement program. The company also was awarded an $8.8 million contract to procure hardware in the loop facility upgrade and study. AAC/EBAD, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity for both contracts. … Sierra Nevada Corp., Sparks, Nev., was awarded a $45 million contract to procure products and services in support of the Precision Strike Package Program. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Austal: Changes are taking place at shipbuilder Austal USA. Joe Rella resigned as president of Austal USA, and the company may be talking to General Dynamics to sell at least part of its Mobile shipyard. (Post)

Acceptance trials: Amphibious transport dock Anchorage successfully completed acceptance trials last week. LPD 23, under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Avondale, La., is the seventh in the LPD 17 class to be built by the company. (Post)

Contracts: Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $9.3 million modification to previously awarded contract for government furnished equipment workshare transportation efforts in support of the Zumwalt class destroyer. (Post) Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded a $17.4 million modification to previously awarded contract for DDG 51 class and CG 47 class Aegis Combat System installation, integration and test in support. (Post)