Saturday, July 7, 2012

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

One of the pleasures of writing a weekly column on aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region is that there's never a lack of material. Take a look at the daily RSS digest and you'll see what I mean. Airbus' decision to build jetliners in this region may force me to consider doing a column two times a week. Sweet.

The Airbus story was the big deal in this region during the week. But if you've been a long-time reader, you know the aerospace stories from this region run the gamut, from space activities in the western portion of this region to military aviation activities in the eastern portion and now, thanks to Airbus, aircraft manufacturing in the heart of the region.

But don't be misled by that generalization. Space activities are centered around the Stennis-Michoud corridor, but there's a major space radar tracking system at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. And military aviation activities occur across the region, it's just that the heaviest concentration is in Northwest Florida. And assembly and manufacturing operations small and large can be found across the region, and it includes everything from space capsules to avionics equipment.

In any case, be prepared folks. Because the Airbus story is just getting started, you'll be deluged with news briefs about that over the coming months and years. But it won't squeeze out stories about New Orleans' work on NASA's Space Launch System or Stennis Space Center's work testing rocket engines for NASA and commercial companies. And you'll still see plenty about the F-35 training at Eglin Air Force Base and weapons testing there.

The purpose of this column, as well as the news digest, is to give you a better sense of the aerospace activities across the entire region. The local newspapers and television stations do a great job covering aerospace activities in their own back yards, but the purpose of this column and the news feed is to give you a better sense of aerospace in its entirety in this region and to provide the regional context.

That said, here's your week in review:

Boeing couldn't have timed this one better. Without planning it, Airbus' rival - which is none too happy about having its rival on its home turf - came up with some statistics that help show why Airbus decided to build an assembly line in the United States.

Boeing projects a $4.5 trillion market for 34,000 new airplanes over the next 20 years as the current world fleet doubles in size. That's from the Boeing 2012 Current Market Outlook released the day after the Airbus announcement about Mobile.

Boeing's annual forecast reflects the strength of the commercial aviation market. Airline traffic is forecasted to grow at a 5 percent annual rate over the next two decades, with cargo traffic projected to grow at an annual rate of 5.2 percent. The outlook says the single-aisle market will continue its robust growth. Both the Boeing 737 and Airbus’ A320 family compete in that field. (Post)

It's been said before but in light of the Airbus announcement, it needs to be said again. Boeing is a major player in Alabama, notably in Huntsville, and it also has operations in this region in New Orleans and Northwest Florida.

-- No doubt the Airbus decision is a hot topic at the Farnborough International Air Show in London during the week. Mobile Press-Register reporter George Talbot, who is in London for the air show, wrote that about 80 Alabamians, including two dozen from Mobile, are expected to attend the air show. They plan to capitalize on the momentum from the Airbus decision.

For this region, the show gets underway Sunday evening when the Aerospace Alliance, a group that promotes aerospace activities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, hosts a reception at the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall Palace for about 450 people.

Neal Wade, the director of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance in Florida, who also heads up the four-state Aerospace Alliance, told Talbot the reception is at capacity and people will have to be turned away. The reception may wind up being one of the most important events for folks from this region. Wade said it will draw many of the top Airbus suppliers. (Post)

-- The announcement early in the week at the Mobile Convention Center sounded like a pep rally and patriotic celebration, with laser light, smoke and music. But that’s the way big companies do it when they make an announcement that’s particularly significant. And having an assembly line for A320s in Mobile is certainly that.

The $600 million plant will eventually make 40 to 50 aircraft a year. The complex at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex, a former Air Force base, will create 3,200 construction jobs and eventually employ 1,000 people. The complex will take up 116 acres of the 1,700-acre Brookley, but the company has already made arrangement for more space should it be needed.

The project will put Mobile, Alabama and the Gulf Coast region in a select club of locations producing narrow-body commercial jets. An airliner plant owned by the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer on to the home turf of its chief rival, Boeing, is likely to change the dynamics of the aerospace industry for years to come. (Post)

-- During the announcement, I asked one Airbus officials where the flight checks will done. Will it be over land, over the Gulf of Mexico or some other location? I asked because I know there's a good deal of flight activity in this region, what with the mix of commercial and private airports, military aviation activities. Nothing firm has been decided yet on that, but the official told me there are plenty of options.

-- Among those congratulating Airbus was Pratt and Whitney. The company, part of United Technologies, provides engines for the A320 family of aircraft: the PW1100G-JM and the V2500 engine made by the International Aero Engines collaboration.

The makeup of the International Aero Engines collaboration has changed. Rolls-Royce late last month sold its equity to Pratt & Whitney, though Rolls-Royce continues to manufacture high-pressure compressors, fan blades and discs as well as the provision of engineering support and final assembly of 50 per cent of V2500 engines.

Other IAE shareholders are Pratt and Whitney Aero Engines International GmbH, Japanese Aero Engines Corp., and MTU Aero Engines GmbH. UT's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne assembles and tests rocket engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- The H.L. "Sonny" Callahan Airport in Baldwin County may be in good position to benefit from Airbus' decision. For years the airport authority has worked to turn the airport into an economic development engine, including buying 250 acres adjacent to the runway in 2007. The runway itself was expanded a few years earlier to handle commercial or military aircraft. Airport Authority chairman Charles Zunk said the Fairhope airport and the airport in Moss Point, Miss., are both well-positioned to benefit from the Airbus decision. He said Fairhope is qualified for secondary vendors for Airbus. (Post)

-- The assembly line for A320 jetliners in Mobile will mean University of South Alabama's College of Engineering students will have a better chance staying in the area. A partnership between Airbus and USA was already in place prior to the announcement, but the latest news boosts the relationship, meaning more USA engineering graduates could be hired on by Airbus. (Post)

-- All this new stuff with Airbus prompted the reporters of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League to updated the second annual Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2012-2013. I better know that, since I'm one of the reporters/editors of the League.

The book became available in early June, but the Airbus announcement is so big, two chapters were updated to include details on the Airbus announcement. The book focuses on the considerable aerospace activities in the region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida, including space, pilot training, weapons development and more. It's available as a free PDF or as a printed book at cost. (Post)

he first space-bound Orion spacecraft crew module has been delivered to the Operations
and Checkout Building on NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The crew module structure recently underwent its final friction stir weld at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and was transported to KSC to be readied for its Exploration Flight Test in 2014.

Over the next year and a half the crew module will undergo final assembly, integration and testing at KSC in preparation for the Exploration Flight Test. Additional subsystems will be installed, including propulsion, thermal protection, environmental control, avionics, power, mechanisms, and landing and recovery systems. The EFT-1 flight will be NASA’s first orbital flight test beyond low Earth orbit since the 1960s. (Post)

Alternative fuel
The 40th Flight Test Squadron made history at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., June 28 flying the first aircraft to use a new fuel blend derived from alcohol. The fuel, known as ATJ (Alcohol-to-Jet) is the third alternative fuel to be evaluated by the Air Force for fleet-wide use as a replacement for standard petroleum-derived JP-8 aviation fuel. The A-10 flew without any issues.

ATJ is a cellulousic-based fuel that can be derived using wood, paper, grass, anything that is a cell-based material. The sugars extracted from these materials are fermented into alcohols, which are then hydro-processed into the aviation-grade kerosenes used for aviation fuel. (Post)

Contract: Textron Inc., New Orleans, La., was awarded a $212.7 million contract for the detail design and construction of a ship to shore connector test and training craft and technical manuals. The SSC program is the functional replacement for the existing fleet of landing craft, air cushion vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. (Post)

Shrimp: NOAA scientists predict an above-average season for the commercial harvest of brown shrimp in the western Gulf. They estimate the harvest in the western Gulf will be 59.2 million pounds, above the historical 50-year average of 56.5 million pounds. (Post)

BAE: BAE Systems in Mobile, Ala., has picked up a contract from Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., to build two dump scows, a project expected to add about 125 workers to the company's Mobile shipyard. (Post)