Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week in review (12/1 to 12/7)

Alabama officials are busy putting together a proposal they hope will convince aerospace giant Boeing to put a 777X plant in north Alabama's Huntsville. The state, which already has a $600 million Airbus final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala., thinks it has a lot going in its favor, from being a right-to-work state to having a large technical workforce in Huntsville.

This all began when a union in Washington State rejected overwhelmingly a contract proposal submitted by Boeing that included labor concessions. The vote wasn't even close. Right after that, Boeing said it would now have to look elsewhere for a place to build the 777X.

States are putting billions in incentives on the table. Alabama, which came up with $158.5 million to sweeten the deal for Airbus, hasn't said what it's willing to pay to get a Boeing aircraft plant. The other states in the running are Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington State.

The deadline for proposals is Tuesday.

Boeing is already the largest aerospace company in the state, where it's had a presence for more than 50 years. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley met with Boeing officials to discuss building the 777X in Alabama. The company has already said some engineering work on the 777X will be done in Huntsville, and it also owns 300 acres at Huntsville International Airport. (Post)

But a history lesson may be in order.

This is not the first time Alabama has thrown itself into competition to attract a Boeing aircraft plant. A decade ago Boeing put out word that it was looking for a place to build its revolutionary 7E7, a brand-new aircraft that eventually was designated the 787. The contest was open to any location that wanted to pitch a proposal.

A lot of states, including Alabama, jumped at the chance. Boeing hired McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greenville, S.C., to conduct the search. Back then it was Mobile, Ala., that was in the running. One of the requirements from Boeing was access to a port, since a lot of major pieces of the plane would be shipped in other locations.

More than 80 proposals came in, and Mobile ended up being a finalist. Other sites given serious consideration were Charleston, S.C., Harlingen, Texas, Savannah, Ga., and Tulsa, Okla.

But in the end Washington State won after lawmakers there came up with billions in incentives. That was welcome news for the Seattle area, which was still getting over the move of Boeing headquarters to Chicago in 2001.

The takeaway for those competing now is that even with Washington's generous incentives, the state was still the highest-cost option among the 7E7 finalists, according to a March 2004 Site Selection article. But it was close enough that Everett won the competition.

In Everett, Boeing wouldn't face handing a new plane and a new system to an untried location and workforce. It had 18,000 experienced workers and infrastructure. That made the savings elsewhere too small to justify the risk at a new site, according to Site Selection.

And Boeing needed to have some sure things in place with this plane. It would be the first-ever commercial jet with most of its primary structure made of composites. It was also Boeing's first plane built with modular construction, with huge chunks globally outsourced.

A lot has changed in the world since 2003, but one thing that hasn't is that Washington State remains one of the costliest places to build planes. The unions have continued to show might, having an impact on Boeing business decision.

But Boeing now has experience setting up a new plant with an untried workforce when it opened a $750 million Dreamliner plant in Charleston, S.C. The union moved to scuttle that plant when it complained to the National Labor Relations Board, but changed its mind after Boeing raised wages and expanded jet production in Washington State.

Some think the entire exercise in 2003 was designed to get concessions from Washington State and the unions, and that this new competition is more of the same. But it's more likely that Boeing is really interested in weighing its options, and would bolt if the business case is strong enough. If you think Washington State is irreplaceable, look what happened to the auto industry.

The chances are good Boeing will keep production in Washington State. But a smart Boeing is also thinking strategically, and will know that in the long run it has to lower costs to compete not only with Airbus, but other companies that one day will build competing aircraft. Indeed, there may come a day when Boeing and Airbus will work together on a future aircraft.

Perhaps they should each have a production facility in Alabama. Stranger things have happened.

The Alabama group that went to Germany for the Aviation Forum is back home. Led by Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, the delegation included Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who spoke before the audience of 300 at the forum.

One of the messages Stimpson brought back to Mobile was to be patient, it will take time for Airbus suppliers to come to the region.

The South Alabama group included representatives from the City of Mobile, Mobile County Commission, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Mobile Airport Authority, Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, Alabama State Docks and Alabama Power.

Another group from Northwest Florida, the Gulf Coast Aerospace Coalition, formed by Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties, also attended the forum. That group will be hosting the International Aerospace Industry Forum for Northwest Florida Leadership in Hamburg Sunday through Wednesday.

-- If you're interested in advanced manufacturing and the way science and technology changes our world, this item is for you. It has implications that we can only begin to imagine, and it's likely to impact operations at Mobile's Airbus A320 assembly line at some point.

Airbus signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore using digital manufacturing. Airbus will evaluate how the technique being developed at MIT can be applied to the design and construction of aerospace vehicles.

Digital material technology is based on the idea that a complex structure can be built by assembling a simple set of components. When the parts developed by MIT are assembled, much like snap-together building blocks, the resulting structure is lightweight, durable and easy to disassemble and reassemble.

The technique could lead to lighter aircraft and lower construction and assembly cost.

Airbus is also exploring the use of 3D digital printing of some parts or potentially larger airframe structures. We already had a test at Stennis Space Center, Miss., that used a 3D printed part. (Post)

-- Airbus Americas is seeking candidates for an aircraft conformity manager for the A320 final assembly line under construction in Mobile. Minimum requirements include an associate/technical degree. Successful candidates must have at least five years of experience in in aircraft inspection, configuration management or quality management. (Post)

-- Airbus is in front of Boeing in the first 11 months of the year in the number of orders that have been placed. Airbus has received 1,373 orders since January, more than 100 better than Boeing's 1,212 orders, according to data from the companies. But after cancellations, Airbus logged 1,314 net orders.

Boeing remained ahead on deliveries, which drive revenue and are the most widely used benchmark for ranking the top two jetmakers. It delivered 580 planes compared with 562 from Airbus and looked on course to maintain the industry's No.1 spot for a second year when full 2013 data is released in January. (Post)

-- As expected, Kuwait Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus to buy 15 A320neo and 10 A350-900 planes and an option on 10 more planes. The deal also calls for the company to lease seven A320 and five A330-200s. Kuwait Airways signed a letter of acceptance for the deal in May. (Post)

At the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., officials during the week celebrated the start of production of the first of five NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Global Hawks.

NATO is acquiring the system, which will provide near real-time surveillance, with 15 participating nations: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.

The company's industrial team includes EADS Deustchland GmbH (Cassidian), Selex ES and Kongsberg, as well as leading defense companies from all participating nations. The Moss Point facility also does finishing work on the B and C models of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. (Post)

-- The Naval Research Laboratory demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system from a submerged submarine. The eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS) was fired from USS Providence’s torpedo tube using a Sea Robin launch vehicle system, which fits within a Tomahawk launch canister used for launching cruise missiles.

Once deployed, the Sea Robin and XFC rose to the surface where it appeared as a spar buoy, then XFC vertically launched from Sea Robin and flew a successful several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence (SSN 719). The XFC later landed at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, Andros, Bahamas.

NRL has a detachment at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Amazon got attention last weekend when it said it may one day deliver packages by drone, and while there are a lot of hurdles, at least one drone maker thinks the attention will help.

Charles Easterling, CEO of Crescent Unmanned Systems, helped found the drone startup in 2010 at Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. The company's Bravo 300, an unmanned aerial system is designed to carry surveillance cameras, is being marketed to police departments and the military.

But recently Easterling started getting calls about potential commercial uses, and that's likely to continue because of the buzz over Amazon deliveries. Plans are to finish development of its drone at a testing ground in Utah this month. (Post)

The F-35 program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., reached a new single-day record for sorties during the week with 45 training missions for all three variants of the jet fighter. The Marine F-35B variant completed 32 of the flights, the Air Force F-35A had 10 flights and the Navy F-35C flew three missions. (Post)

-- The first operational F-35As will be based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the service announced Tuesday. Hill was selected because of its location near training ranges and because the base is home to the F-35 depot. Hill is home to the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and the reserve 419th Fighter Wing, and will be flown by both components. Construction on the base will start immediately, with F-35s arriving beginning in 2015. (Post)

The Vermont National Guard is also scheduled to get F-35s, 18 of them to be precise, by 2020. They will be based at Burlington International Airport. Air Guard Col. David Baczewski said most likely the pilots will go to Eglin for training. (Post)

The Air Force may have to cut funding for research and development unless Congress reverses across the board spending cuts, according to Lt. Gen. Charles Davis. The No. 2 Air Force acquisition official made the comment at a conference hosted by Credit Suisse.

He said Pentagon leaders are determined to protect funding in new technologies, but the Air Force would have to cut funding to ensure the readiness of its forces if sequestration remains. The Pentagon is bracing for additional mandatory cuts in fiscal 2014, but lawmakers are working on a budget deal that could ease the extent of those cuts.

Any cuts in Air Force R&D funding might have an impact on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where aerial weapons are developed, tested and evaluated. R&D expenditures at Eglin hit $601.1 million in fiscal year 2013, a drop from the previous year. (Post)

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., during the week, marking the first successful SpaceX launch of a commercial satellite. The mission is SpaceX's first to a high geostationary transfer orbit needed for commercial satellites. The mission was delayed two previous times because of technical issues.

The $100 million satellite is owned by a Luxembourg company, SES. The company had previously used European Ariane rockets or the Russian Proton for its satellite launches. SpaceX, which has successfully resupplied the International Space Station, also wants to enter the $190 billion a year commercial satellite launch industry. SpaceX will test its Raptor methane rocket engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin has completed on-orbit testing of the second Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite and handed over spacecraft operations to the U.S. Navy. The handover also includes acceptance of three MUOS ground stations that will relay voice and high-speed data signals for mobile users worldwide.

MUOS-2 was launched July 19, 2013 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The system improves secure communications, delivering simultaneous and prioritized voice, video and data for the first time to users on the move. Work on the core propulsion system for the MUOS, an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, is done by Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Economic development
Escambia County, Fla., approved the purchase of 601 acres in Santa Rosa County that will be developed as a helicopter training site. Plans are to eventually swap that land with the Navy for a 640-acre Outlying Field 8 in Escambia County's Beulah.

The land in Santa Rosa will be purchased from RMS Timberlands. It's appraised at $1.88 million. The county commission wants to close on the RMS land deal by Dec. 31. Escambia County wants use the current OLF 8, adjacent to the Navy Federal Credit Union campus, for a commerce park. (Post)

M1 Support Services LP, Denton, Texas, was awarded a $38,722,328 firm-fixed-price contract for advanced instructor pilot support services for the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, 110TH Aviation Brigade Support at Fort Rucker, Ala. Work will be performed in Alabama with an estimated completion date of Dec. 12, 2017. (Post)

Ingalls: Huntington Ingalls Industries, Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $39 million modification to previously awarded contract for life cycle engineering and support services on the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program LPD 17 class. Work will be done in Pascagoula and is expected to be completed by December 2014. (Post)
Jacobs: Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded an $11.3 million task order under the previously awarded General Services Administration Alliant Multiple Award contract for information technology services. (Post)
Austal: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded an $8.2 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise an option for littoral combat ship (LCS) core class services. Work will be done in Mobile (60 percent) and Pittsfield, Mass. (40 percent), and is expected to be complete by November 2014. (Post)

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