Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week in review (1/19 to 1/25)

The final truss of a hangar was put in place at the A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala.; a Pentagon report says software, maintenance and reliability issues could delay plans to start using the F-35B; $2.45 million is being awarded to 14 Florida communities with military installations; a new rear admiral takes over the training command in Pensacola, Fla.; an Army brigadier general is assigned to the aviation center at Fort Rucker, Ala.; and L-3 Crestview Aerospace cuts were among the aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast I-10 region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The final, signed truss was placed atop the main structure of the Airbus A320 final assembly line during the week. That's less than 10 months after ground was broken on the $600 million plant that will start producing Airbus' most popular jetliner starting in 2015.

Construction contracts for other buildings that will make up the Airbus campus will be awarded soon. The final assembly line, the first for Airbus in the United States, will eventually have about 1,000 workers and will build 40 to 50 jetliners a year by 2018. (Post)

In another Airbus-related story during the week, Canada's Magellan Aerospace said it will supply 5-axis machined wing ribs for Airbus' single aisle A320 family, including the A320neo. Magellan will invest in a new high-speed, 5-axis machining center in its facility in Greyabbey, Northern Ireland. Magellan is a public company with operating units throughout Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Poland. (Post)

A Pentagon report warns that software, maintenance and reliability problems with the F-35 could delay the Marine Corps' plans to start using its F-35B jets by mid-2015. The report by the Pentagon's chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, forecasts a possible 13-month delay in completing testing of the Block 2B software needed for the Marine Corps to clear the jets for initial combat use next year. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

Another report by a think tank takes issue with the number of jobs tied to the F-35 program.

Lockheed Martin says the F-35 program supports 125,000 jobs in the United States. But William Hartung, a longtime critic of the F-35, said in a report by the Center for International Policy that standard estimating procedures used by other studies would put the number of jobs closer to 50,000 to 60,000. Lockheed defended its estimate, which is based on 32,500 direct jobs and adds 92,500 indirect jobs. (Post)

In another F-35-related story, a former employee of Pratt and Whitney accused of trying to ship boxes of stolen information on the F-35 to Iran has been indicted by a federal grand jury. Mozaffar Khazaee, born in Iran but a naturalized American citizen since 1991, is charged with two counts of interstate transportation of stolen property. He was arrested Jan. 9 at Newark International Airport. (Post)

Defense grants totaling $2.45 million will be awarded to 14 communities with military bases. Escambia County is getting $250,000, Santa Rosa County $280,000, Okaloosa $300,000, Walton County $60,000 and Bay County $100,000, according to published reports. Part of the money is earmarked to buy land around the bases to prevent encroachment, and part for community relations and economic development. (Post)

-- The Naval Education and Training Command at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has a new leader. Rear Adm. Mike White took command during a ceremony Friday afternoon. White is a naval aviator whose most recent duty was commander of Carrier Strike Group 11. The previous commander, Rear Adm. Don Quinn, is retiring after 35 years of service. (Post)
-- Brig. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., has been assigned to commanding general, Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Fort Rucker, Ala. (Post)
-- Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., recently held an exercise designed to increase the combat prowess of F-22 pilots of the 43rd and 95th Fighter Squadrons. The simulated air combat mission pulled together aircraft in an atmosphere the pilots might see on a real battlefield. The event featured Mitsubishi MU-2 aircraft, F-4 Phantoms, F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke AFB, Ariz., T-38 Talons and F-22s. (Post)

Economic development
For Crestview, Fla., there was good news and there was bad news.

The bad news: L-3 Crestview Aerospace over the past few weeks has eliminated some 10 percent of its workforce, or about 100 people. The company still employs more than 850 people at Bob Sikes Airport. Spokesman Lance Martin said the layoffs resulted from a lower volume of work in L-3’s U.S. defense programs and delays in the awarding of a commercial contract. (Post)

The good news: A company that will help train aerospace workers will open a branch at Okaloosa Industrial Air Park at Bob Sikes Airport. Carolina Aeronautical Airframe and Powerplant of Simpsonville, S.C., specializes in courses for FAA certification for aircraft mechanics. Beginning in March, Carolina Aero Prep Panhandle Campus initially will offer training for veterans or retired military aircraft maintainers. (Post)

While we're on the subject of training, south of Crestview in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., enrollment is up at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Institute and courses are already planned for the next three years. Enrollment went from 60 Choctawhatchee and Crestview high schools to 155 this year with the introduction of an evening class and unmanned aerial vehicle course. Next year Embry-Riddle plans to add engineering courses. (Post)

Meanwhile, to the north of the Florida Panhandle in Enterprise, Ala., a new $12 million aircraft maintenance hangar for Brightwater Aviation Properties will be built by BL Harbert International of Birmingham. Alabama Aircraft Support will operate the facility that will repair and maintain helicopters, creating up to 200 jobs. The project is slated to be finished in October. (Post)

To the west in Foley, Ala., U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), on a statewide jobs and industry tour, stopped at UTC Aerospace Systems early in the week. The largest manufacturing employer in Baldwin County was the seventh stop on his tour. The aerostructures business unit designs, builds and supports nacelle systems for commercial and military aircraft. (Post)

Defense and aeronautics engineering group Safran will buy aerospace businesses from Eaton Corp. for $270 million in cash. Safran will acquire Eaton's Aerospace Power Distribution Management Solutions, which makes key contactor and circuit breakers for jets, and Eaton's Cockpit Solutions. Safran has an engineering center in Mobile, Ala.; Eaton has a hydraulic systems center in Jackson, Miss. (Post)

B3H Corp., Shalimar, Fla., was awarded a $6.9 million task order for an existing contract for English language instructors and an English language training program using Defense Language Institute English Language Center courseware, methodology and processes. .. L-3 Communications, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $129 million contract modification for maintenance and modification of the Army C-12/RC-12/UC-35 fixed wing aircraft fleet. Work will be performed in Madison, Miss. … General PAE Applied Technologies LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, has been awarded a $28 million contract modification exercising the option for Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., base operations support services. Work will be performed at Keesler. The 81st Contracting Squadron, Keesler, is the contracting activity.

Supply vessel: Gulf Coast Shipyard Group Inc., Gulfport, Miss., launch the first of six Harvey Gulf International Marine dual-fuel offshore supply vessels. The vessel will be christened and put into service a few months later. (Post)
Support boats: Silver Ships of Theodore, Ala., was awarded a contract to provide 36 surface support vessels to the Navy. (Post)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Week in review (1/12 to 1/18)

The first Airbus workers for Mobile start training in Germany; Airbus beats Boeing in sales in 2013, and considers increasing A320 production; three airports lose direct service to Reagan National Airport; Northrop Grumman Global Hawk lauded for safety record; Cygnus docks with ISS; and a community college teaming up with Rolls-Royce were among the aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast I-10 region during the week.

Here's your week in review:

The first group of workers hired for the Airbus final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala., are in Germany for training. The group has trained in Mobile for the past two months. The $600 million, 1,000-worker assembly line in Mobile will open in 2015 and eventually produce between 40 and 50 aircraft each year. (Post)

That group is only the start. Airbus is continuing its search for workers for the A320 final assembly line. It's now seeking liaison engineer candidates in three categories. The three new engineering positions will focus on installation, structure and systems, and each requires a minimum of 10 months training abroad. Liaison engineers support the production line, ensuring each aircraft meets standards of safety and reliability. (Post)

Meanwhile, the news about airplane production continues to be positive. Airbus beat rival Boeing with record sales and orders last year, but came second in airliners delivered. Airbus in 2013 took 1,503 net orders compared to 1,355 orders taken by Boeing. Last year Airbus delivered 626 planes and Boeing delivered 648 aircraft. (Post)

For Mobile the importance of all this is that Airbus is exploring higher output of A320 single-aisle and A350 wide-body aircraft. Airbus now builds 42 single-aisle jets a month, and production could rise to 44 or 46 in early 2016 according to Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice president for programs. Output of the updated A320neo, the new engine option, could rise to about 50 after 2018. (Post)

On the downside, United Continental Holdings Inc. canceled orders for six A319 and six A320 single-aisle planes valued at about $1.08 billion that the carrier said are no longer needed. That's according to Christen David, a spokeswoman for United. The orders were canceled in December, David said. (Post)

Florida's Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Tallahassee will be losing an American Airlines direct flight to Washington D.C.'s Reagan National Airport. The are among 17 small and mid-size cities being cut as a result of the American-US Airways merger. (Post)

-- The Command Headquarters at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., was renamed in a ceremony Friday after Navy photographer Walter Leroy Richardson. About 300 people were at the ceremony that kicked off the base’s centennial celebration. The 63,000-square-foot Building 1500 recently had an $11.2 million renovation. (Post)

-- Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kory G. Cornum, commander, 81st Medical Group, Air Education and Training Command, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is being assigned to command surgeon, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Cornum is also the senior market manager for TRICARE's Gulf Coast Multi-Service Market. (Post)

The Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial System was singled out for having the best safety record in the U.S. Air Force in 2013. The Global Hawk has logged more than 100,000 flight hours and carries a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor payloads. The central fuselages for Global Hawk and Global Hawk variants are built by Northrop Grumman in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Meanwhile, the Global Hawk RQ-4A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator completed 10,000 combat hours in the six years it's been deployed in the Central Command area of responsibility. The Global Hawk Block 20-based aircraft was originally intended to deploy for six months, but has had its deployment extended indefinitely ahead of the planned introduction into service of its successor, MQ-4C Triton. (Post)

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station last weekend. Launched by Orbital's Antares rocket Jan. 9 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Cygnus delivered cargo and will remain berthed to ISS until Feb. 18. When it leaves it will take disposable cargo for a destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean. Antares AJ26 engines are tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Pearl River Community College in Mississippi received a $50,000 grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to support Rolls-Royce at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The funds are used to send new employees to a training center in Columbus, Ohio; the company's main test facility in Derby, England; or to training at Stennis. Rolls-Royce North America opened its engine test site at SSC in 2007 and completed a second test stand in the fall of 2013. (Post)

LCS: The Navy has been told to cut its order for littoral combat ships from 52 to 32 vessels, Pentagon sources told Defense News. Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., is one of two companies building the ships. (Post)
JHSV: The Navy's first joint high-speed vessel is on its maiden deployment to the U.S. 6th Fleet. USNS Spearhead was built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. (Post)
VT Halter: VT Halter Marine laid the keel for one of two articulated tug barge units being built for Bouchard Transportation Co. Construction of the two units began in April at VT Halter Marine's Pascagoula, Miss., facility. (Post)
Signet: Signet Maritime is investing $7.2 million in infrastructure improvements at its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard, Signet Shipbuilding & Repair. The work will support an increased workload and future growth, the company said. (Post)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Week in review (1/5 to 1/11)

Test stands at Stennis Space Center, Miss., were the topic of a couple of stories during the week. With both the A-3 test stand and the B-2 test stand, the stories said that money was spent on the stands unnecessarily.

In one story, an audit released Wednesday by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin criticized NASA for spending $352 million to refurbish the B-2 test stand for Space Launch System tests when it would have cost less to revamp stands in Alabama and California. The other stands are at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The audit said it would have cost $251 million to refurbish the Huntsville stand and $319 million for the Edwards stand. But NASA chose B-2 because of problems associated with using the other stands. In the case of Edwards, NASA was concerned over transportation risks, and with Huntsville it was concerned over transportaiton and noise issues. NASA responded to the audit by admitting it didn't follow its own rules and agreements, but said it "is confident it made the right decision." (Post)

Anther story earlier in the week, this one by Bloomberg, was about Stennis Space Center's $350 million A-3 test stand. It said the stand will be finished early this year, then mothballed for the foreseeable future. The article said Congress ordered NASA to finish building the 300-foot tall tower despite the demise of the program for which it was built. The story said it's an example of how U.S. lawmakers "thwart efforts to cut costs and eliminate government waste." (Story)

The IG audit that initially raised the issue of the A-3 test stand is close to a year old. It was released Feb. 12, 2013. Although the audit was concerned about wasting money, it never raised the issue of whether killing Constellation in 2010 was itself a waste of money. At the time, NASA already had spent $292 million on the A-3 test stand and needed $57 million to finish the work that was 65 percent complete.

The context is also important. Congress and the space community had serious concerns about canceling Constellation, and those who pushed to finish the A-3 test stand might have recognized that NASA's direction can change from administration to administration. It is, in fact, rocket science and decisions shouldn't be based on money alone.

The Bloomberg story did point out that while there are no rockets being developed for NASA that would need the high-altitude test capability of the A-3, it’s conceivable that such a rocket may be built in the future that would need that ability. Companies like Aerojet Rocketdyne and SpaceX, may need to test engines for yet-to-be-developed rockets that would send astronauts into space, said Chris Quilty, an analyst with Raymond James and Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla. "With all the discussion of going to Mars, going to the moon, they are going to need more advanced upper-stage engines," Quilty said.

Indeed, Glenn Mahone, a spokesman for Aerojet Rocketdyne, said that while company officials know the A-3 test stand isn't "a near-term priority, it likely will be required to support exploration objectives in the future."

It's dangerous to let infrastructure fall by the wayside based on the changing winds of politics. Back in 2005 following the decision to end the Space Shuttle Program, NASA commissioned an internal study to assess the relevance of its facilities to current and future work. The study took a critical look at each of the agency's 10 centers.

Among other things, the study found that Plum Brook Station, Ohio, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Calif., Stennis Space Center, and Wallops Flight Facility, Va., had insufficient work to justify continued operations. With the exception of Santa Susana, NASA took no action to implement the study's recommendations.

Was that a mistake not to close SSC and the others? Ask Orbital Sciences, which is using Wallops Flight Facility and Stennis Space Center, or SpaceX, which decided SSC has enough going for it that it should test its Raptor at SSC. Wicker, in fact, made reference to these changing needs in his reply to Bloomberg.

"Stennis Space Center is the nation's premier rocket engine testing facility," the senator said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg. "It is a magnet for public and private research investment because of infrastructure projects like the A-3 test stand. In 2010, I authored an amendment to require the completion of that particular project, ensuring the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands."

Sounds on target to me.

Now here's more of the week in review:

Orbital Sciences launched its unmanned Cygnus cargo ship on the company's first regular supply mission to the International Space Station. The liftoff of the Antares rocket carrying Cygnus was Thursday afternoon from Wallops Island, Va. Cygnus is due to dock at the ISS on Sunday, the fifth mooring of a private vessel to the station. The first was California company SpaceX's Dragon in May 2012.

Orbital and SpaceX, both private companies, stepped in to ensure the United States' ability to reach the ISS after the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011. Orbital has a contract with NASA worth $1.9 billion for eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS. The launch is Orbital's second trip to the ISS, following a successful demonstration launch in September. (Post)

In another launch, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket took off Monday evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., to put a commercial communications spacecraft into orbit for Thai satellite operator Thaicom.

The satellite, built by Orbital Sciences, was deployed about a half-hour after the launch. The launch was the second in just over a month for SpaceX. Orbital Sciences tests its AJ26 rocket engines for its Antares launch vehicle at Stennis Space Center, Miss., where SpaceX will test its new generation Raptor engines. (Post)

-- The avionics system that will guide NASA's Space Launch System has seen the light. The flight software and avionics for SLS were integrated and powered for testing Thursday at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The test will help NASA perfect the system and ensure the units communicate together as designed. Avionics tell the rocket where it should fly and how it should pivot its engines to stay on course. Stennis Space Center, Miss., tests engines for the SLS, and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is building portions of the SLS. (Post)

-- A secretive military space plane will move into a vacant former space shuttle hangar at
Kennedy Space Center, Fla., possibly bringing hundreds of jobs. Use of the former shuttle hangar called Orbiter Processing Facility-1 will allow the Air Force's classified X-37B program "to efficiently land, recover, refurbish and re-launch" the unmanned system in Florida, according to Boeing, which built and supports the program's two orbital vehicles. Officials did not say how soon the military program could move to KSC, which has been seeking new users for facilities it no longer needs following the shuttle’s retirement in 2011. NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss., also offers unused/underutilized facilities for commercial use. (Post)

-- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana will visit the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Monday. They will be updated on construction of the facility that will manufacture the massive core stage of NASA's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and progress on launching it on its targeted first flight test in 2017. The Michoud Vertical Assembly Center will be home to one of the world's largest welding tools when the facility is completed in March. (Post)

Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, will replace Sean O'Keefe as chairman and
chief executive officer of Airbus Group Inc., the company's North American business unit, when O'Keefe resigns March 1, 2014.

O'Keefe elected to step down in order to fully address ongoing medical issues due to injuries he sustained in a 2010 aircraft accident in Alaska. However, he will continue with the company on special assignment to oversee and facilitate the compliant transition of the company’s ongoing security agreement with the Department of Defense to the new U.S. Group structure.

The company this year changed its name to Airbus Group from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., EADS. The new Airbus Group will feature divisions called Airbus, Airbus Defense and Space, and Airbus Helicopters.

Airbus Helicopters is a direct name change from Eurocopter. Airbus is building an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., at Brookley Aeroplex, where it also has an engineering center. It also has an operation at Mobile Regional Airport; American Eurocopter has an assembly facility in Columbus, Miss. (Post)

-- Airbus won its annual order race with U.S. rival Boeing in 2013, industry sources said. Boeing earlier reported 1,531 gross commercial airplane orders for 2013, or 1,355 net orders after subtracting cancellations. Airbus booked more orders in both categories, the sources said. The European company delivered over 625 aircraft in 2013, beating its target of up to 620 but lagging Boeing's total of 648 deliveries, one source said. Airbus declined to comment ahead of an annual news conference on January 13. (Post)

Boeing set a company record in 2013 for the most commercial airplanes delivered in a single year with 648. The company's unfilled commercial orders stood at 5,080 at the end of the year, also a new Boeing record. Boeing also booked 1,531 gross commercial orders in 2013, a new company record and 1,355 net commercial orders in 2013, the second-largest number in company history. In 2013, three programs set records for deliveries in a single year. One was the 737 program, which delivered 440 next-generation 737s. Boeing has operations in the Gulf Coast region, and its biggest competitor, Airbus, is building an A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

-- Singapore Airlines chose Airbus's A320 to launch its new Indian joint venture with Tata Sons, a win over rival Boeing as the airline market in Asia's third biggest economy shows signs of a revival. Sources familiar with the decision said a project team picked Airbus over Boeing's 737, the aircraft ordered by low-cost operator SpiceJet to expand its fleet in a deal reported by Reuters on Tuesday. The A320 market is of interest to Mobile, Ala., which is getting an A320 final assembly line. (Post)

-- Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday that Boeing might have used Alabama as leverage during union negotiations in Washington state. But he said Alabama would have been in the top three states competing for a new Boeing plant had the manufacturer not reached a deal with the union. Bentley said he asked Boeing officials whether they were seriously considering locating a new 777 plant in Alabama or if they were using the state to force a deal with unions. "When I met with them the first time, I said, 'Are you using us to get a positive vote out of the union or are you truly serious about moving?'" Bentley said. "We were the first state that they had met with and they said they were truly serious about moving." (Post)

The experimental Thatcher CX5 aircraft, a two-seat plane designed by Dave Thatcher of Pensacola, made its initial flights in December at Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores, Ala. The experimental aircraft is powered by a modified Volkswagen engine. Once test flights are finished, the Thatcher CX5 will return to Pensacola International Airport in Florida, where the plane was built in a private hangar. Thatcher plans to sell plans for the CX5 after tests are finished for about $475. Thatcher sold 574 plans for his CX4, a single-seat plane he designed. (Post)
-- A ruptured fire sprinkler water pipe over the main concourse at Pensacola International Airport in Florida caused delays in boarding passengers for about 20 minutes one day during the week. The flooding affected the carpeting from gates 3 through 10 but was cleaned up by work crews. Boarding passengers were redirected to other gates. (Post)

-- A small plane made an emergency landing near Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Miss., Monday evening and the pilot was uninjured. The pilot was traveling from St. Elmo, Ala., and was landing at Trent Lott Airport to refuel, but he lost power and set down in a field northeast of the airport. (Post)

Lt. Col. Erick Gilbert on Monday landed the first of five F-22 Raptors at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., the new home of the 95th Fighter Squadron. The five planes that arrived from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico are the first of 24 Raptors that will be based at Tyndall. The remaining planes will arrive by the end of April. The arrival symbolizes an expansion of Tyndall’s mission into combat operations for the 95th Fighter Squadron, a first in Tyndall’s history. (Post)

-- A civilian contractor died and three others were injured Wednesday afternoon after the fire suppression system in 90,000 square-foot King Hangar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., released an unknown amount of foam. The contractors worked for Defense Support Services (DS2), which provides support services. DS2 said the employee who died was Jonathan Lord, 31, a tool and parts attendant. A resident of Valparaiso, he is survived by his wife and one child. Three other DS2 employees were treated and released. (Post)

-- A brigadier general has been fired amid an investigation into an alleged inappropriate personal relationship. Brig. Gen. Jon Weeks was relieved as commander of the Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center on Thursday. Gen. Eric Fiel, head of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla., said he made the decision based on preliminary information from the ongoing investigation. (Post)

-- Col. Robert G. Armfield of Hurlburt Field, Fla., has been nominated for appointment to the rank of brigadier general, Pentagon officials said Thursday. Armfield is currently serving as the commander, 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field. The appointment was among 31 nominations named in a release from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced today. (Post)

Northrop Grumman and the Navy completed nine initial flight tests of the Triton unmanned aircraft system, the half-way point in a process called envelope expansion. During envelope expansion, the test team validates the aircraft's ability to operate at a range of altitudes, speeds and weights.

The flights are taking place at the company's manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. Completion of envelope expansion will allow the test team to prepare for installation and further testing of Triton's surveillance sensors. The Navy plans to field 68 Tritons. Central fuselage work on the Triton is done in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Week in review (12/29 to 1/4)

Call it déjà vu.

On Friday the machinists union in Washington State approved an 8-year contract with Boeing that waters down some worker benefits, but does guarantee the 777X and composite wings will be built in the Puget Sound. (Post)

The immediate impact on Alabama was a sudden end to its attempt to bring the Boeing plant to Huntsville. But Alabama wasn't alone. A lot of other states that bid for the plant were also left holding the bag.

This whole turn of events shouldn't surprise anyone. This is all reminiscent of 2002, when Boeing was looking for a place to build 787s only to stay put in Washington State after it got a lot of incentives. But to see it as just an attempt by Boeing to twist the arm of the union and state would be a mistake.

The concerns of the state and workers is quite real, and with good reason. Recent history tells us Boeing is slowly but surely moving pieces of the Washington State enterprise to other locations. Corporate headquarters is now in Chicago, and a second 787 assembly line is in South Carolina. Engineering work on the 777X has also migrated away from Puget Sound. Huntsville is getting a piece of that action.

And there's another way to look at Boeing's search for a 777X site. True, the contest is at an end, but the effort did provide Boeing with fresh insight into the desire of other locations to host a Boeing plant. And if the 777X proves to be as popular as some think it will be, it may  one day need a second production line.

But Boeing wasn't the only economic development disappointment for this region and others. Early in the week the Federal Aviation Administration announced the locations where it would establish unmanned aerial system test and development centers.

Proposals from Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Virginia came out on top. These sites will be key players in the effort to integrate drones into the nation's air space. The University of Alaska's proposal includes seven climatic zones and test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon.

New York's Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into congested airspace. Virginia Tech's proposal includes test ranges over both Virginia and New Jersey. The congressionally-mandated test sites will conduct research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years. (Post)

But the FAA decision doesn't mean this region won't continue to be a big player in this high growth field. While the federal centers will be important, states and private companies are significant players as well who can create unmanned system magnets of their own.

Camp Shelby, Miss., is a prime example. More than two weeks before the FAA announcement, a program was launched that backers said could attract companies interested in unmanned systems to South Mississippi.

The program involves the Open Source Software Institute, the military and Department of Homeland Security, and the focus is integrating unmanned vehicle systems and open source software. It's called the Open Source Unmanned Remote and Autonomous Vehicle Systems program, and it's designed to drive innovation and reduce costs in part by utilized open source software. The research program is based at Camp Shelby and administered in conjunction with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, DHS, Defense Acquisition University and non-government entities. (Post)

The FAA decision will not stop development of a test center in Shalimar, Fla., from moving forward. The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County has partnered with the University of Florida for the past four years to develop an unmanned system test facility just near UF's Research and Engineering Education Facility outside Eglin.

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the EDC, told the Northwest Florida Daily News that the FAA's decision not to locate a UAV test site in Florida has no bearing on the interest to develop the business sector at the local level. The next step is for the EDC and UF to sign a memorandum of understanding that will provide a defined framework for how to move the project forward.

And one of the biggest lures for making this region a big player in unmanned systems, aerial, land, maritime, you name it, may well end up being the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla.

IHMC came in second in a two-day robotic competition at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month, beaten only by a team from Japan owned by Google. Sixteen teams competed, and IHMC outscored every team from the United States, including Carnegie Mellon, MIT, NASA and other internationally known names. (Post)

So yes, it would have been nice getting an FAA site. But there are other opportunities.

Economic development
Speaking of opportunities, Florida is ranked No. 1 overall in U.S. aviation manufacturing attractiveness in a PricewaterhouseCoopers index, according to a release from the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The index ranked Florida's talent first, its industry ninth and cost six for an overall ranking of first in the nation in the index. Texas was ranked second and Washington State third. (Post)

That type of information is coming at a great time. The aerospace and defense industry will grow 5 percent globally in 2014, despite the budget pressures to the defense sector. That's according to a study from Deloitte.

"It is likely that 2014 will bring high single to double-digit levels of growth in the commercial aerospace sub-sector, as experienced in 2012 and expected in 2013, given the dramatic production forecasts of the aircraft manufacturers," said the study.

Commercial aerospace is a bright spot. The 2014 growth in the commercial aerospace industry is being driven by record-setting production levels, due to the accelerated replacement cycle of obsolete aircraft with newer fuel-efficient planes. The report predicts that by 2023, annual production levels in the commercial aerospace industry will increase by 25 percent. Aerospace and defense are pillars of the region's economy, and it will in the near future include an Airbus final assembly line. (Post)

The first of two dozen F-22 Raptors will begin arriving at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Monday. When all the aircraft arrive, the additional operational squadron will make the base the home of the largest contingent of Raptors in the world. The five jets coming Monday are the first of 24 that are being transferred from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. (Post)

-- The 2014 Armament Industry Days will be held March 11 and 12 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and will provide stakeholders in the weapons development community a better understanding of current threats, technologies, and possible solutions to meet warfighter needs. The event is hosted by the Program Executive Officer for Weapons and the Armament Systems Development Eglin Satellite Office. Activities will be conducted at the Secret Security level and will feature comments by Brig. Gen. Scott Jansson, Air Force PEO for Weapons. (Post)

Funding for the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport's control tower is still in limbo. But continued funding is looking good for the Federal Aviation Administration’s contract tower program, in which the airport participates. “Right now, it looks like things are moving forward,” said ECP Director Parker McClellan, noting language in both the Senate and House budget bills in support of the program, which costs about $150 million annually. (Post)

-- A private plane’s landing gear malfunctioned early in the week while touching down at Pensacola International Airport. The landing gear of the single-engine plane gave way during the landing and the plane skidded partway down the runway on its belly. The pilot, the only one on board, was not injured, but the airport’s north-south runway was closed for several hours. (Post)

The year's first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is now planned for no earlier than Monday. SpaceX had hoped to launch its Falcon 9 rocket around 5 p.m. Friday carrying a Thai commercial communications satellite. But the decision was made to conduct more rocket inspections. If necessary, launch attempts could also be made next Wednesday through Sunday. SpaceX plans to test its Raptor engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

LNG fuel tank: Lockheed Martin workers this month will put the finishing touches on the first 90-foot long, stainless steel liquefied natural gas fuel tank being built for an LNG-powered offshore supply vessels being built by New Orleans-based Harvey Gulf International Marine. (Post)