Saturday, February 1, 2014

Week in review (1/26 to 2/1)

For a good part of the week business in the Gulf Coast I-10 region ground to a halt or was severely curtailed by the winter weather that brought freezing temperatures, icy roads and closed bridges. NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., shut down for two days, and military bases reduced staff to essential personnel. Airports throughout the region shut down as air traffic ground to a halt. But before the end of the week the region returned to normal.

Here's the aerospace week in review:

BusinessWeek tackled an interesting story, wondering if it's possible for business to be too good. It took up the issue of the huge aircraft order backlog being experienced by Airbus and Boeing. Boeing finished 2013 with an order backlog of some 5,100 airplanes, and Airbus finished up the year with an even larger backlog of 5,559 airplanes, led by the popular A320 family.

The backlogs represent more than eight years of assembly work for both companies, and both companies have said they plan to ratchet up production. That's certainly welcome news for Mobile, Ala., which is the site of the newest Airbus A320 final assembly line.

But the article points out that the business situation for airlines can change over time, leading to cancelations. Frustration with having to wait is another factor that can lead to cancelations, making the production gear-up risky. (Post)

Speaking of aircraft orders, Vietnamese carrier VietJetAir said it would finalize a $9 billion order for up to 92 Airbus aircraft next month as it seeks to tap into Southeast Asia's fast growing low-cost market dominated by AirAsia and Lion Air. In September, privately owned VietJetAir and Airbus agreed a provisional order for mostly A320 planes, but the deal did not show up on the order book of Airbus in its 2013 data. (Post)

One of those Southeast Asia competitors in the same market as VietJet Air, Lion Group of Indonesia, has selected CFM International’s CFM56-5B engine for 60 firm A320ceo aircraft. The aircraft order was announced in March 2013. CFM is a joint venture of GE Aviation and Snecma, a division of Safran. GE Aviation has an aircraft engine parts plant near Hattiesburg, Miss., and Safran has an engineering center in Mobile, Ala. (Story)

While we're on the subject of propulsion systems, Airbus Group will decide by the end of March whether to offer more efficient engines for its A330. You'll recall the A330 MRTT was the plane that the Airbus Group, formerly known as EADS, proposed as the platform for Air Force aerial tankers it hoped to build in Mobile. The A330 currently offers engines from GE, Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney. The A330 competes against Boeing's 787, powered by either GE or RR engines. (Post)

This region's interest in jetliner engines is of fairly recent vintage. True, propulsion systems have historically been a part of the aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region, but that was limited to spacecraft engines. But our interest in airliner engines began when Rolls-Royce in 2007 opened its first outdoor engine test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss. That interest was underscored when GE Aviation built its aircraft engine parts plant near Hattiesburg, Miss. GE Aviation also has engine parts plants in Batesville, Miss., and Auburn, Ala.

That Auburn plant, by the way, was visited early in the week by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., as part of his statewide tour of businesses. Shelby said he visits every Alabama county yearly. This year, he decided to tour area businesses. It was Shelby's first visit to GE Aviation in Auburn, which opened in April. During the tour, Shelby observed the production of jet engine components, like shrouds, HPT blades and turbines. GE Aviation has about 65 workers at the plant, but the number is expected to increase to 300 or 400 in the next several years. (Post) Shelby also visited UTC Aerospace in Baldwin County on Jan. 21. (Post)

United Technologies is pondering the future of helicopter maker Sikorsky, according to Defense News. Sikorsky, maker of Black Hawk, could emerge as a target for European firms eager to crack a U.S. market that remains lucrative. Sikorsky and UTC, which also owns aircraft engine maker Pratt and Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems, declined comment to Defense News.

Sikorsky is the Pentagon's leading helicopter supplier, Boeing is second, the Bell-Boeing joint venture is No. 3, Textron's Bell Helicopter is fourth and Airbus Helicopters is fifth. Sikorsky has multiple support operations in the Gulf Coast. It's also the company that supplies the Schweizer 333 as the airframe for the Fire Scout MQ-8B built in part in Moss Point, Miss..

Other Gulf Coast connections related to this story: Airbus Helicopters builds helicopters in Columbus, Miss.; Bell plans to build a helicopter plant in Lafayette, La.; and UTC has a service center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

-- The Global Hawk unmanned aerial system, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., could be a big winner in the Air Force's fiscal 2015 budget submission, according to Defense News. That would mark a change in fortune for a program the service has tried to kill since 2012.

The Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk Block 30 will be funded when the president's budget arrives March 4, said two sources with knowledge of budget discussions. The sources confirmed funding will come at the expense of the U-2, which the Air Force had promoted as a cheaper alternative. The news was first reported by Aviation Week. (Post)

The Air Force and Marine variants of the F-35 developed cracks in testing of the fighter's durability and wasn't sufficiently reliable in training flights last year, according to a report released by the Pentagon’s chief tester, Michael Gilmore.

The report says it will require mitigation plans and may include redesigning parts and additional weight. The test report also outlined achievements, finding that flight tests performed by 18 jets to evaluate the aircraft's flying prowess and handling qualities "made the planned progress" and "nearly matched or exceeded" sortie goals through October.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- South Korea expects to sign a deal for 40 fighter jets in the third quarter of 2014. Plans to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35s appear on track. South Korea decided to redraw terms of its $7.68 billion tender to buy 60 fighters last year, reducing the number in December to an initial 40 jets. South Korea signaled plans to buy Lockheed Martin F-35A after its Joint Chiefs endorsed a need in December for "cutting-edge stealth" jets for first delivery in 2018. (Post)

The U.S. Transportation Command announced early in the week that Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. William W. Turner, currently assigned as command chief master sergeant, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla., has been selected as command senior enlisted leader, U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (Post)

Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $10.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract for additional Joint Performance Based Logistics support for the Marine Corps MV-22 and the Air Force and Special Forces Operations Command CV-22 aircraft. Hurlburt Field, Fla., is home of the Air Force Special Operations Command and 1st Special Operations Wing, which uses the CV-22 Osprey. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, was awarded a $35.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to develop a Universal Armament Interface capability in the F-35 software for Small Diameter Bomb II F-35 Mission Systems Integration Laboratory, ground test only. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center, as well as the location where aerial weapons systems are developed. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $13.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for organizational, selected intermediate and limited depot level maintenance for F-16, F-18, H-60 and E-2C aircraft operated by the adversary squadrons based at Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nev.

QinetiQ: QinetiQ North America was awarded a $12 million, three-year contract for ocean modeling, remote sensing, and physical oceanography programs to support the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)
LCS 4: The future USS Coronado (LCS 4), departed from the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala., during the week en route to her commissioning site in Coronado, Calif. (Post)

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