Saturday, April 6, 2013

Week in review (3/31 to 4/6)

Sure, a lot happened during the week in the Gulf Coast aerospace region. One company said it will invest $12 million on a new facility in Dothan, Ala., headway is being made on getting F-35s in the hands of allies, a base in this region won a major Air Force award and plans are progressing to build an indoor unmanned systems center near Eglin Air Force Base.

But let's face it, what's going to happen Monday is what's got everybody's attention. Airbus at 10 a.m. CDT will break ground on its new A320 final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. The two-hour ceremony will be attended by officials from Airbus and its parent, EADS, as well as local, state and national dignitaries.

The 117-acre Airbus campus at Brookley has been characterized by Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor as the eventual epicenter of commercial activity for the company’s American operations. It will have access to two runways and will eventually employ 1,000 highly skilled workers.

The significance of having Airbus planes assembled on U.S. soil is hard to overstate. The $600 million plant, announced in July 2012, is slated to open in 2016 and will eventually produce four aircraft a month. It's changing the economic landscape of Mobile, Alabama and the surrounding Gulf Coast region.

In and of itself the Airbus plant is significant. But it's coming to a region that already has a significant aerospace footprint. Airbus adds aircraft assembly to an Interstate 10 region between Southeast Louisiana and Northwest Florida that includes aerial weapons development, pilot training, unmanned aircraft assembly, space activities and more. Even before the decision to establish an assembly line, Airbus has had a presence in Mobile through the Airbus Engineering Center at Brookley.

Establishing the line in Mobile is part of Airbus' long-term strategy to support its customers in the largest single-aisle market in the world. The plant is expected to build 40-50 aircraft a year by 2018, and it's becoming clear that Airbus needs to open another line to keep pace with demand. Airbus is closing in on its 2013 order target four months into the year after already winning more than 600 orders from airlines snapping up the fuel-efficient A320 single-aisle bestseller.

Airbus targeted 700 gross orders for the year. After opening 2013 with a prediction for as many as 650 orders, Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy has raised the goal by a further 50 planes. Airbus is most likely to exceed even that target, given the Paris Air show, a one-week event in June that typically coincides with large-scale orders. (Post)

That underscores something said by Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. "I think Airbus has seen the writing on the wall for a while – that the aircraft market is right on the cusp of immense growth," he said, according to the and the Mobile Press-Register.

According to the newspaper, Greg Canfield, Alabama's commerce secretary, said Mobile will most likely welcome between four and six "integral service providers" essential to the assembly line's production that will located on the Airbus campus. Canfield said Airbus officials are still seeking and negotiating with candidates for these critical suppliers.

There will also be a handful of critical, but not integral, suppliers who will choose to locate somewhere on Brookley's 1,700 acres, but not directly on the Airbus project site. Beyond that, Canfield said, an outer ring of suppliers will begin to form that could reach as far as 100 miles away, but the majority will locate within 45 minutes to one hour of Brookley. Avionics, cabin interiors, furnishings, glass and windows will be among the suppliers locating in that wave, he said. In time, Canfield said, the outermost band will form within about 100 and 300 miles and will consist primarily of suppliers for suppliers.

-- Airbus is now seeking candidates for manager of health, safety and environment at its Mobile plant. For the posting click here. It's the third job posting for the Mobile plant. Airbus Americas spokeswoman MaryAnne Greczyn said hires for manufacturing specific positions will begin later this year.

-- Speaking of investments in this region, Commercial Jet Inc. will invest $12 million to open a new 400,000-square-foot facility at Alabama’s Dothan Regional Airport in Dale County that will employ hundreds. The facility will more than triple the company's capacity to provide freighter conversion and maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO, services. The expansion will include multiple hangars, back shops and offices and extensive apron space. The final building will be delivered in October. (Post)

On another investment topic, work continues on plans to build a center to develop small unmanned air and ground vehicles in Okaloosa County, Fla., just outside Eglin Air Force Base. Okaloosa County commissioners approved $65,000 to pay for site assessment and conceptual design of the facility being developed by the University of Florida and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.

The center would be located just south of UF's Research and Engineering Education Facility on land the college owns. The 45,000-square-foot center will consist of two connected buildings, one for administrative offices and research labs and the other for flight and ground tests. The complex will feature space for temporary or permanent offices and labs, depending on clients’ needs. The test center is intended to attract the high-paying science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. (Post)

The Federal Aviation Administration will delay until June 15 the closure of the air traffic control tower at Stennis International Airport in Hancock County, Miss., and 148 others across the country. Last month the FAA directed the Stennis tower to be among the first to close on Sunday as part of the agency's cost-cutting effort. Now all facilities will close June 15 unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower, the FAA said. Officials from about 50 airports have indicated they may fund the tower operations themselves. The Stennis airport serves, among others, NASA's nearby Stennis Space Center. (Post)

-- Airlines are adding more flights and larger planes at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Delta Airlines added a later flight from Gulfport to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on a 50-seat regional jet. American Airlines is going from four to five daily flights serving Dallas-Fort Worth International. US Airways passengers flying to the hub in Charlotte, N.C., will ride larger jets. The airline is replacing two of its 50-seat planes to Charlotte Douglas International Airport with 67-seat regional jets for the season. (Post)

Australia’s first two F-35s are progressing down the U.S. production line in Fort Worth, Texas, and approaching the stage where they will start looking like planes. David Scott, Lockheed Martin's director of F-35 international customer engagement, said the planes, AU-1 and AU-2, were on schedule for delivery in the U.S. in 2014. He said the wings are under construction at the Lockheed Martin plant in Forth Worth, which is also where constructing the forward fuselage is done. The center and aft fuselages are under construction at Northrop Grumman and BAE plants. The first Australian F-35 pilots will likely start training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., later this year. (Post)

-- The third United Kingdom F-35 embarked on its first flight recently. Aircraft ZM137 will complete a series of company and government checkout flights prior to its acceptance by the U.K. Ministry of Defence. ZM137 will join U.K. aircraft ZM135 and ZM136 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., later this year where it will be used for pilot and maintainer training. (Post)

A long-range precision rocket from BAE Systems has successfully been tested on an A-10 Thunderbolt II. The laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II had previously been used in Afghanistan by U.S. Marine Corps helicopters.

The 40th Flight Test Squadron performed three sorties to demonstrate the capability and ensure the rocket could be fired safely from a fixed wing aircraft, a test that had never been done before. The rockets, launched at altitudes 10,000 feet and 15,000 feet, hit within inches of the target. (Post)

Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., learned Friday that it was selected for the
Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award. Keesler will represent the Air Force in competition for the Commander-in-Chief's Annual Awards for Installation Excellence. The award comes with a $1 million prize that will be used for quality of life improvements. (Post)

-- A highly decorated member of the Tuskegee Airmen was at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week to participate in the promotion ceremony for Maurice Lee, commander of the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Lee was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel. Harvey, 89, was the first black fighter pilot to fly in the Korean War. Awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross and 11 air medals. (Post)

NASA selected 295 research and technology proposals from 216 American small businesses for negotiations that may lead to contract awards worth a combined $38.7 million. The proposals are part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program.

Nine proposals involve technology being developed for the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., including nanocomposite protective coatings for nuclear thermal propulsion systems; advanced prognostic tools; power-generating coverings and casings and more. (Post)

Jacobs Technology Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., was awarded a $128.4 million contract modification. This modification provides for the exercise of an option for additional diverse engineering, technical and acquisition support services being provided under the basic contract. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The contracting activity is AFTC/PZZ, Eglin Air Force Base. … EADS North America of Herndon, Va., was awarded a $21 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for security and support mission equipment package production cut-in services. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss.

Ingalls: The Mississippi Senate honored Pascagoula’s Ingalls Shipbuilding Thursday on its 75th anniversary as the state's largest private employer. Ingalls employs some 10,000 workers in Mississippi and 37,000 nationwide. (Post)
Commissioning: The Navy Saturday commissioned the newest San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, Arlington, at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. The ship is 684 feet long and is the eighth of the LPD-17 class to be built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)
Expansion: Horizon Shipbuilding Inc. of Bayou La Batre, Ala., has tripled the company's production capacity with the recent acquisition and development of its West Yard facilities. Horizon has built ships for the Navy, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and for commercial transportation and oil service companies. (Post)

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