A briefing by the chairman of Airbus Americas, another step forward for Eglin's F-35 program, the crash of an F-22 at Tyndall, an expansion at L-3 Crestview Aerospace, groundbreaking for a resort on Air Force land and a couple of projects tied to the Airbus assembly line were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor.
Here's your week in review.
Participants in a media tour on Friday got a briefing from Allen McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, about the company's plans to build a $600 million plant at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. It's so big, he doesn't think people will recognize this region in 20 years.
He said Brookley Aeroplex and the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor "is going to become one of those ‘holy cow we never thought that this was going to be as big as it is'" type of places. "I'm actually convinced that your horizon 20-25 years out, people are going to say I had no idea, no idea of the impact this would have." But the things that attracted Airbus won't go away.
McArtor said the A320 family of planes that will be build in Mobile is a program that has legs since it will be produced for years to come. It's a better deal for the region than the aerial tanker would have been or another Airbus aircraft.
Ground will be broken, ceremonially, in April 2013. Once finished, the assembly line will have the capacity to produce eight planes a month, though four is the plan right now. And the company has enough additional space available to build another campus.
Airbus has started to talk to research universities in the region about collaborative efforts. Along the Gulf Coast there are multiple research universities, some with full campuses, others with important programs. Many are involved in aerospace research or research related to aerospace, including advanced materials, human-machine cognition and others. He said he believes Airbus has an obligation to stimulate the state of the art by collaborating with universities.
Airbus also plans to be fully engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities at the middle and high school levels. "I hope you see Airbus fingerprints on the educational systems of the Gulf Coast," he said.
Once the planes roll off the line in 2016, they'll become a common sight in the skies of this region. McArtor said there are several operating areas in the region where the planes could conduct acceptance flights, both over land and over the Gulf of Mexico. The list includes military operating areas. "There are a number of options," he said. Each plane will have builder acceptance flights and customer acceptance flights.
McArtor is clearly excited about the future of this region, and what the Mobile campus can be. "I intend to make this the example within Airbus," so when projects come down the pike Mobile will be a strong contender.
He said one of the appealing aspects of producing in the United States is the wealth of boutique suppliers. Airbus is already spending $12 billion a year in the United States, and expects to double that. It will be buying everything from materials for the new assembly line to parts for the jetliners.
"We're getting drowned with calls right now, but that's OK," he said.
Lots of companies are interested in becoming suppliers. Earlier in the media tour, the folks from L-3 Crestview Aerospace in Crestview, Fla., made it clear they're pursuing work with Airbus. As Jeff Barger, vice president and general manager put it, "we're all over it."
The company, which has had a high degree of success in the defense market, is gearing up to pursue commercial contracts, and Airbus is a part of that plan. L-3 Crestview Aerospace is one of the companies in the "halo" area that McArtor talks about. Over the next few years L-3 Crestview Aerospace has expansion plans that will increase its footprint at Bob Sikes Airport, near Crestview, by 25 percent.
Work is already under way on the expansion. The company announced during the week that it's investing more than $7 million in facilities upgrades, including the retrofit of hangar space. As part of these expansion activities, L-3 CA has increased its workforce. (Post)
-- Although ground won't be broken on the Airbus plant until next year, work is well underway to prepare for the assembly line. The Mobile Press Register wrote during the week that Watermark Design Group was chosen to design the first structure associated with Airbus’ plant at Brookley Aeroplex. The 35,000-square-foot, multi-story training facility for the Alabama Industrial Development Training program will house labs and classrooms to train potential Airbus employees. (Post)
The newspaper earlier reported that some $12 million could be spent to repave or completely restore roads near Brookley. The City Council approved an engineering portion on one of those contracts: a $105,000 with Geotechnical Engineering-Testing Inc., for soil and concrete testing along the deteriorated Broad Street between 15th Street and Interstate 10. (Post)
-- A relative, so to speak, of Airbus got a contract award during the week. The U.S. Army awarded EADS North America a $181.8 million contract option to deliver 34 more UH-72A Lakota helicopters, bringing the total aircraft ordered to date to 312. EADS North America has delivered 243 Lakotas from its American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss., where up to five aircraft per month are produced. American Eurocopter is part of EADS North America, a subsidiary of EADS. Airbus is also a subsidiary of EADS. (Post)
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce President Win Hallett is retiring next year. He made the announcement at the annual board of directors meeting Friday. Hallett, who has been president since 1991, will retire when a successor is on board.
The chamber is the lead industry recruiter for the Mobile area, and has played a prominent role in a string of Mobile job recruitment wins, most notably the decision of Airbus to build an A320 assembly plant at Brookley Aeroplex. (Post)
I've known Hallett since the early 90s, when I worked for the Mobile newspaper, first as a business reporter and later the business editor. He's always been approachable, the epitome of a Southern gentleman with a wealth of knowledge about Mobile and, importantly, the state and region. In fact, some of our earliest conversations concerned a regional approach to economic development.
It almost seems like short-changing Hallett just to mention Airbus. You can add Austal and Thyssen Krupp to that list, as well as many other projects. But I know Hallett well enough that I'll predict he'll remain engaged.
Last week I wrote about another economic development leader, Larry Sassano, leaving the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County after more than 15 years as president. But he's not going away. He's taking over as head of Florida's Great Northwest, a group representing 16 counties in the Panhandle. He reflected on the future in an interview with the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)
The $25 million hotel that will be built on Eglin Air Force Base property on Okaloosa Island, Fla., will be a Holiday Inn. Innisfree and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are partnering on the project. A groundbreaking for the 152-room resort was held Friday. The hotel will have two towers, and the Air Force will have radar stations on the roofs. The Air Force will collect rent from the developers. (Post)
At Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Col. David Graff took command of the 325th Fighter Wing from Brig. Gen. John K. McMullen. The change of command ceremony was Wednesday. (Post). McMullen, who is moving to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to become Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Headquarters Allied Air Command, took his "fini flight" in an F-22 Raptor Nov. 9. The fini flight marks the end of a pilot's flying time at a unit. (Post)
It didn’t take long before Graff had a rather unpleasant issue to deal with. An F-22 on a routine training mission crashed inside the perimeter of the base Thursday afternoon. But on the bright side, the pilot ejected and nobody on the ground was hurt. The Panama City News Herald reported that Graff said there was nothing to indicate the crash was connected with the oxygen issue that caused the grounding of F-22s last year. (Post)
Further to the west over at Eglin Air Force Base, another high-tech aircraft hit a milestone. The last of 24 sorties of the Operational Utility Evaluation of the F-35 was completed Wednesday afternoon. That’s a big step towards opening the F-35 training pipeline.
Lt. Col. Brian O’Neill, 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations and a “student” in the OUE at Eglin, was at the controls. The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M., will certify the OUE is complete in the near future.
Air Force officials started the F-35A OUE Sept. 10. In the evaluation data is collected from all facets of F-35 training, including maintenance, classroom, simulator and flights as a precursor for the Air Force to train other services and allies. (Post)
Raytheon Co., Missile Systems Division, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded an $18.4 million contract modification for the high-speed, anti-radiation Missile Targeting System R7 contractor logistics support services. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBAK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)