Saturday, March 29, 2014

Week in review (3/23 to 3/29)

If you expect to attract aerospace companies, one important part is having a growing, vibrant population. And the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that's the case for the Interstate 10 aerospace corridor.

Two metropolitan areas from the region were among the fastest growing in the nation between 2012 and 2013. They're Alabama's Daphne-Fairhope-Foley MSA and Florida's Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin MSA. They're 9th and 15th fastest growing, respectively. The Daphne MSA is all of Baldwin County, while the Crestview MSA is Okaloosa and Walton counties. (Post)

Additionally, four counties in the aerospace region were among the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation between 2012 and 2013. In Louisiana, St. Bernard Parish was 6th fastest growing, while Florida's Walton County was 16th, Baldwin County, Ala., was 55th and Orleans Parish was 72nd.

Taking a longer view, between 2010 and 2013 six counties in the aerospace region were among the 100 fastest growing: St. Bernard Parish, No. 2; Orleans Parish, No. 26; Walton County, No. 49; Baldwin County, No. 68; Okaloosa County (Fla.), No. 70; and Santa Rosa (Fla.), No. 98. (Post)

Aerospace industry manufacturers and suppliers will be in Mobile next week for the two-day SpeedNews Aerospace Manufacturing Conference at the Battle House Renaissance. It begins Tuesday. Delegates will be able to tour area aerospace facilities, including UTC Aerospace in Foley, ST Aerospace at the Mobile Aeroplex and the Airbus final assembly line under construction at the Aeroplex. (Post)

Airbus during the week inked a new 10-year deal with China allowing Airbus to continue to assemble A320s at Tianjin until 2025. A deal was also signed to have China co-produce 1,000 French EC-175 helicopters over 20 years with Airbus Group's helicopter division and to co-operate on turbo-prop engines with France's Safran.

In addition to the aircraft work, the agreement signed in Paris also calls for China’s state-owned purchasing agency to get 70 planes, including 27 long-haul A330s and 43 single-aisle A320 family aircraft. (Post)

The orders are significant of course, but the ties being formed with China will have a long-term impact on Airbus. I wrote last weekend that Airbus and China are talking about a cabin completion plant in China for A330s. Smart move for Airbus. China within 20 years will supplant the U.S. as the single biggest market for Airbus.

-- ANA Holding Inc. of Japan has made a 70-plane purchase that included 40 long-haul models from Boeing and 30 narrow-body jets from Airbus. It’s the largest in the Japanese carrier’s history. (Post)

In addition to the ANA deal, Tiger Airways, the budget carrier partly owned by Singapore Airlines, ordered 37 Airbus jetliners, canceling some existing orders as it opts for more fuel-efficient models. The order for single-aisle A320neo planes is valued at $3.8 billion and is for delivery between 2018 and 2025. (Post)

Another tenant of the Mobile Aeroplex, Continental Motors, is partnering with ASI Innovation of Reims, France, to bring the 14-passenger Reims-Cessna F406 Caravan II back into production.

They acquired from insolvency the type certificate, inventory and manufacturing rights from Reims Aviation of France. The aircraft, first produced in 1983, can fill multiple roles, including passenger, cargo and mixed use applications. Once production resumes, buyers can equip their F406 with a Pratt & Whitney PT6 or a Continental Motors piston engine.

Continental Motors is a subsidiary of AVIC International Holding Co. of Beijing, China. Continental Motors has been powering aircraft for more than 80 years and now encompasses Continental Motors, Inc., Mobile, Continental Motors Beijing, Technify Motors GmbH, Germany, as well as Mattituck Services Inc. and Zulu Flight Training in Alabama. (Post)

Sierra Nevada and Lockheed Martin showed off the work being done on the Dream Chaser crew vehicle at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. MAF is where a majority of the composite parts, including cabin support structures and wings, is being manufactured. Final assembly will be in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dream Chaser, designed to carry a crew of seven along with cargo to the International Space Station, looks like a small Space Shuttle. Its first unmanned flight is scheduled for 2016.

At MAF, Lockheed Martin is also working on NASA’s Orion space capsule. Fifteen Lockheed Martin workers are involved in Dream Chaser, 124 in Orion and another 20 or involved in building two massive liquefied natural gas tanks. (Post)

-- In Mississippi, Stennis Space Center, NASA's premiere rocket engine test facility, launched a program during the week to beam engine tests into some schools in Mississippi and Louisiana. The program will use technology that will allow students to watch a live stream of engine testing at Stennis, including the J-2X, an engine that's part of NASA's Space Launch System program. Through the virtual visit, NASA scientists and engineers will also appear on the screen to answer student's questions. (Post)

The Defense Department is considering approving the first trans-Atlantic flight of the F-35 fighter jet in July when warplane is expected to take part in two international air shows near London. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is close to a decision that would allow two or three F-35s to fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo, an annual military air show, and the Farnborough air show.

Britain, which plans to buy 138 F-35s in coming years, asked for the jet's participation to help showcase the increasing maturity of the new radar-evading plane. Participating in the international air shows will allow the F-35 program to carry out additional training and learn how the plane's logistics, maintenance, aerial refueling, and security systems work overseas.

Lockheed is the main contractor, with Northrop Grumman and Britain's BAE Systems the biggest suppliers. Pratt and Whitney builds the engine and Rolls Royce Group builds the lift fan that enables the B-model of the F-35 to land like a helicopter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- South Korea expects to pay around $6.79 billion for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. South Korea also confirmed plans to buy four Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to monitor North Korea. The drones will be delivered starting 2018, one of the sources said. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Several contracts were awarded during the week for work on the F-35.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $698 million contract to procure long lead parts, materials and components in support of 57 Low Rate Initial Production Lot IX F-35 fighters, including: 26 F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) aircraft for the Air Force; six F-35B Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft for the Marine Corps; two F-35C Carrier Variant aircraft for the Navy; six F-35A CTOL aircraft for the government of Norway; one F-35A CTOL for the government of Italy; seven F-35A CTOL aircraft for the government of Israel; two CTOL aircraft for the government of Japan; six F-35B STOVL for the United Kingdom, and one F-35B STOVL aircraft for the government of Italy. (Post)

Lockheed Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, was awarded a $52.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract to execute phase 3 of the F-35 Autonomics Logistics Information System (ALIS) Standard Operating Unit Version 2 (SOUv2) capability development effort. Phase 3 includes integration of the SOUv2 with the ALIS sustainment system and the F-35 air system. (Post)

In addition, Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $10.2 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for long-lead components, parts and materials associated with the low rate initial production Lot VIII of eight F135 conventional take off and landing propulsion systems for the governments of Japan (6) and Israel (2). (Post)

Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy successfully completed the first major milestone of the Triton unmanned aircraft system flight test program, clearing the aircraft to fly at various altitudes, speeds and weights. During the test program, known as initial envelope expansion, the team validated more than 568 test points. The flights took place at the company's manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif.

The Navy plans to build 68 Triton UAS and they will be used with the manned P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to conduct persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions across vast ocean and coastal regions. Triton is made in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Meanwhile, Guam MACC Builders A Joint Venture, Honolulu, Hawaii, was awarded $45.5 million task order under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for the design and construction of a high bay maintenance hangar to support forward operations and maintenance functions for the Unmanned Aircraft System MQ-4C (Triton) Broad Area Maritime Surveillance platform at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Work will be done in Yigo, Guam, and is expected to be completed by April 2016. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is the contracting activity. (Post)

Fort Rucker, Ala., stands to gain missions should there be another round of base consolidations and closure. That’s according to Rod Wolfe, a retired brigadier general who is a member of Friends of Fort Rucker.

Wolfe, who also serves on Alabama’s Military Stability Commission, points out that the base has an array of assets that could allow it to benefit from the next Base Realignment and Closure round. It would require millions of dollars to relocate the military’s largest helicopter training facility elsewhere, he said. In addition, Fort Rucker has about 58,000 acres of unused space. (Post)

-- Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center south of Hattiesburg, Miss., along with the state port at Gulfport, want to considered as a depot for the return, redeployment and disposal of military equipment from Afghanistan. The National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison signed an agreement with Camp Shelby Joint Training Center to help military planners understand the capabilities after researchers assessed the logistics potential and cost savings.

The Defense Department will spend $7 billion to ship nearly 750,000 pieces of equipment worth $36 billion as combat operations come to an end in 2014. Camp Shelby is 135,000 acres and has been used as a staging area to mobilize and demobilize troops. In addition, South Mississippi is home of the Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, a “readiness center” that stores and ships equipment worldwide. The base is near an airport, seaport, two interstates and rail systems. (Post)

-- More than 50 organizations nationwide gathered on the Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., range March 3 through 14 for a cost-shared, data collection event known as Sensor Week. They came to test their electro-optical, infrared and radio frequency sensors and equipment against representative targets.

Customers come to Sensor Week to measure seeker/sensor data using their equipment on various scenarios such as ground threat vehicles or improvised explosive device scenarios. Customers get realistic scenarios to test sensors and tactics, including maritime operations in local waters, ground-based transport and attack maneuvers and up to 10 daily air operations using 15 aircraft types. (Post)

-- The Blue Angels flight demonstration team are back home at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., from their winter home in California. The team have a full show schedule, including a July show before the hometown crowd at Pensacola Beach. Last year the air show season was barely underway when sequestration grounded the demonstration team. (Post)

Airport Authority board members halted plans for a $17 million federally approved crosswind runway at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), citing financial restraints. The crosswind runway at the airport near Panama City, Fla., would provide better wind coverage for smaller aircraft. The airport’s current runway doesn’t meet Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) wind coverage requirement for smaller general aviation aircraft. (Post)

Kaman Precision Products Inc., Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $41.6 million modification to a contract for Lot 11 production of Joint Programmable Fuze systems. The contract modification provides for the exercise of an option for an additional quantity of 10,001 state-of-the-art fuze systems being produced under the basic contract. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Cubic Defense Applications Inc., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $6.9 million contract for the procurement of P5 Combat Training System Depot follow-on CLS. The P5CTS consists of the airborne subsystem, or "pod," and the ground subsystem. The location of performance is San Diego, Calif., for the ground subsystem and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., for the airborne subsystem. The work is expected to be complete by March 5, 2015. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Rolls-Royce Corp., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded a $107 million contract action to provide intermediate, depot level maintenance and related logistics support for about 223 in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.; NAS Meridian, Miss.; NAS Kingsville, Texas; and NAS Patuxent River, Md. and is expected to be completed in March 2015. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $58.5 million contract to provide logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance required to support T45TS aircraft based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., NAS Meridian, Miss.; and NAS Kingsville, Texas. This requirement also includes the support and maintenance of the T-45 aircraft at all operational sites, numerous outlying fields, and various detachment sites. Work is expected to be completed in July 2014. … Companies in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Maryland were awarded nine-month task order bridge contracts to continue extending physician, allied health, nursing, technologist, technician and assistant services currently being provided in support of the Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Fla.; Naval Health Clinic Pensacola, Fla.; Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi, Texas, and their affiliated clinics within Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, Fla. (46 percent); Pensacola, Fla. (44 percent); Corpus Christi, Texas (10 percent) and affiliated clinics within Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, and work is expected to be completed January 31, 2015.

Signal: Signal International’s ship repair yard in Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $4.5 million contract to repair and drydock the 615-foot-long Navy tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella. (Post)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Week in review (3/16 to 3/22)

Since the announcement in 2012 that Airbus would build an A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala., much of the interest in  the Gulf Coast region has been on grabbing a piece of the supply chain. Everybody knows the plant itself is just the start.

It's that supply chain that concerns at least one aircraft buyer. Airbus and Boeing risk over-stressing the aerospace supply chain as they ramp up plane production to unprecedented levels to meet demand. That's according to Steven Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Air Lease Corp. He said the pressure of production acceleration could cause problems at the lower end of the supply chain.

"I'm less concerned about Boeing and Airbus assembling the airplanes," he told Reuters during the recent annual ISTAT air leasing conference in San Diego. "As you go down the supply chain, hundreds of suppliers, small suppliers, can they keep up with 100 single-aisle aircraft a month? That's a big concern of ours, because a little guy can slip up and then it holds up everything."

Airbus recently said it will lift production of its single-aisle A320 planes by nearly 10 percent, matching a similar move by Boeing. By 2017, Boeing and Airbus will be churning out 138 new jetliners a month. The plant being built in Mobile will help the company meet demand. (Post)

As if to underscore the popularity of new jetliners, it was reported during the week that Airbus Group is looking to win a Chinese order of at least 150 jetliners worth $20 billion. The deal is expected to be announced Wednesday when a Chinese delegation visits Europe. The agreement includes a large number of single-aisle A320neos, the new engine option variant of the popular plane.

Airbus and China also are in talks to open a second plant in China, the "cabin completion" plant for A330s. Five years ago Airbus opened its first final assembly plant outside Europe in Tianjin, where Chinese workers assemble A320 jets. China within 20 years will supplant the U.S. as the single biggest market for Airbus. (Post)

-- Airbus started final assembly of the first A320neo in Toulouse, France, with the attachment of the forward and aft fuselage sections that arrived from St. Nazaire, France, and Hamburg, Germany, respectively. The next step is to join the wing to fuselage.

It takes about a month to complete the final assembly of an A320. On average, every seven hours an A320 family aircraft leaves one of the three final assembly sites, in Toulouse, Hamburg or Tianjin, China.

The first flight of the A320neo is to take place in the fourth quarter 2014 with first delivery about a year later. Airbus claims an order count of 2,600 A320neos from 50 customers since its launch in 2010. (Post)

-- Airbus has been voted "most attractive company" by the French general public in 2014, according to the fifth Randstad Awards survey in France. The online survey was carried out in November 2013, with a panel of 12,000 people aged between 18 and 65. Airbus won the number one place out of some 250 companies. (Post)

-- The International Association of Machinists has its eyes on both the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C., and the Airbus plant in Mobile, Ala. It’s opened an office in Charleston in hopes of organizing the plant.

Tom Buffenbarger, president of the union in Washington, D.C., made it clear he wants to organize both plants to help union members in Puget Sound. He said the Machinists are working to organize those plants to "level the playing field, so these companies can compete on a level perspective, and that's what serves our members best in Puget Sound." (Post)

Pilots will begin training at night in the F-35 fighter for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center. The first night-time sortie could occur as early as Monday. Nine of the F-35s are equipped for use in training pilots to navigate at night. F-35s have been flown at night at other bases, and the military decided they needed brighter lights. The F-35s that will be flying at night have the new lights.

Takeoff would be about 8 p.m. and flights would last about an hour. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing’s operations support squadron, said they will use the same flight paths as they do during the day and that residents typically are out of earshot. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, during the week was awarded three contracts related to the F-35 program. The largest award was for $118.9 million, a modification to a previously awarded contract for the repair and replenishment of government-owned F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft assets. The assets include spare parts on JSF jets, training devices, support equipment and Autonomic Logistics Information System equipment. (Post)

A second contract for $65.3 million is a modification to a previously awarded contract for non-recurring efforts for the development of a Common F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing Air System comprised of the Air Vehicle and the Autonomic Logistics Global Sustainment System for the governments of Japan and Israel. (Post)

The third award was a $50.7 million contract for non-recurring efforts and integration tasks in support of the development of Japan's F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing Air System, which is comprised of the Air Vehicle and the Autonomic Logistics Global Sustainment System. (Post)

-- Italy could cut its planned order of 90 F-35 fighter jets as part an effort to trim its defense budget and other spending. Italy is trying to cut its defense budget by $4.2 billion over the next three years by taking measures like closing barracks and cutting the F-35 purchases. Italy has already reduced its orders from 131 to 90. (Post)

The first test flight of NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle has been delayed to early December to accommodate a U.S. military payload in United Launch Alliance's Delta 4 launch manifest. The unmanned Orion test flight was scheduled for launch in September or October aboard a Delta 4.

The Orion test flight will prove many of the spacecraft's key systems, such as computers, software and the capsule's 16.4-foot-diameter ablative heat shield. The first crewed Orion mission is scheduled for launch on the second Space Launch System flight in 2021.

Along the Gulf Coast, Stennis Space Center, Miss., tests engines for the SLS program and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans built the Orion test vehicle and will build the core stage of SLS. (Post)

-- The Air Force is pressing ahead with funding and intense support from Congress for the "Space Fence" system to track debris in low-Earth orbit, following delays and cutbacks driven by sequestration. Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, has said the program is critical to the health of military and commercial satellites.

The Air Force last year shut down a part of its network for tracking satellites and orbital debris because of budget cuts. To compensate for the loss, the Space Command modified operating modes for some of its other space tracking assets, specifically the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System at Cavalier Air Force Station in North Dakota and the space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport board approved moving forward with further development of a 20-year, $33.6 million expansion plan for the airport near Panama City. Improvement projects will be carried out in phases as passenger activity increases throughout the next 20 years and beyond. (Post)

-- In Pensacola, Fla., Mayor Ashton Hayward signed a 10-year contact Friday with Missouri-based OHM Concessions Group to provide food and beverage services at Pensacola International Airport. The group replaces Varona Enterprises, which has had the food and beverage concession at the airport for more than two decades. The deal with OHM provides more money to the airport than the competing bid. (Post)

-- Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold has been nominated for assignment as commander, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla. Heithold is currently serving as the vice commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. (Post)

LCS: The Navy was scheduled to christen its newest littoral combat ship, the future USS Jackson (LCS 6), in a ceremony at the Austal USA Shipyard in Mobile, Ala., Saturday. (Post)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Week in review (3/9 to 3/15)

Australia plans to buy Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned surveillance system to help patrol the vast ocean regions surrounding that country. It's the first foreign customer for the maritime variant of the Global Hawk.

How many of the aircraft will be purchased was not disclosed, though it’s believed six to eight will be required, according to Flightglobal. It's also unclear when this will occur. Tritons are made in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

The Triton is the Navy's version RQ-4 Global Hawk. It's powered by an Allison Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, the same engine used in the Cessna Citation X and Embraer ERJ 145. Triton has a wingspan of 130.9 feet and is 47.6 feet long.

Triton has a reinforced aluminum airframe and composite wings, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems. These capabilities allow Triton, which can fly at nearly 60,000 feet, to descend through clouds to get a closer view of ships and other targets at sea. The current sensor suite allows ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location and classification.

The Navy's program of record calls for 68 Tritons.

Moss Point is fortunate to have gained a foothold in an industry firmly entrenched in the future. Unmanned aerial systems are on track to grow dramatically, and Northrop Grumman is at the front of the high-tech pack. (Post)

You might think landing an Airbus jetliner plant like Mobile, Ala., did would be enough to satisfy any economic development appetite. But you would be wrong. The folks who run the nearly 1,700-acre Mobile Aeroplex, site of the future A320 final assembly line, are quick to point out there are still 200 acres and 850,000 square feet of building space available. And there’s also space at Mobile Regional Airport. (Post)

The Airbus final assembly line being built at Mobile Aeroplex celebrated with a topping out ceremony for the main hangar during the week. A 21-foot steel tree built by Dothan's Covenant Steel was ceremoniously installed as the highest structural element of the A320 final assembly line. The final assembly line, which will employ 1,000 workers, is scheduled to open in 2015 and the first A320 will roll out in 2016. (Post)

Airbus posted two new positions for the final assembly line. One posting is for a ground test inspector, which will pay between $18 and $30 per hour based on skills, experience and education. The second posting is for a manufacturing engineer paint coordinator. That position requires a professional degree in aerospace, industrial, mechanical or chemical engineering, preferably in the aviation field. (Post)

-- Airbus and Boeing have revised their 20-year market outlook for India, stating that the country will see more aircraft sales until 2032 than what they had estimated in 2012. Airbus says that between 2012 and 2032 India would need 1,290 aircraft valued at $190 billion. In 2012, its prediction for 2012-2032 was for 1,045 planes at $145 billion.

Boeing's outlook says that between 2013 and 2032 Indian airlines will buy 1,600 aircraft valued $205 billion. Last year, Boeing had predicted that in the same period India would need 1,450 planes valued at $175 billion. (Post)

ST Aerospace
In Florida, the Escambia County Commission during the week pledged $8 million in local option sales tax revenue to bring an aircraft maintenance and repair facility to Pensacola International Airport. Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the allocation, formalized by an interlocal agreement with the city of Pensacola. The agreement was ratified last month by the Pensacola City Council. The county will loan the city $3.2 million, to be repaid by 2020, and provide a further $4.8 million in direct contributions to get ST Aerospace and 300 jobs. (Post)

Meanwhile, in an effort to recruit and train prospective aerospace workers, CareerSource Escarosa is hosting a free information and recruitment session March 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for individuals looking to learn more about career opportunities with ST Aerospace Mobile. The event is at Pensacola State College.

Those with minimum-skill qualifications will have access to ST Aerospace's human resources staff, who will be on site to answer questions regarding current employment opportunities at their facility in Mobile, Ala. Representatives from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, George Stone Technical Center and Pensacola State College will also be on site to provide information on available aeronautical programs. (Post)

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition does a lot of neat stuff, and it's probably best known for the robot Atlas, which is making a great showing at international competition. But researchers there are also involved in aerospace activities, like creating a new type of aircraft display that simplifies all the dials dials, gauges, buttons and other confusing array of controls.

David Still, an IHMC researcher who earned a pilot's license, figured there had to be a better way. So he came up with OZ, and pilots that have used it fly better, one study showed. He's now building a kit airplane that will use the new display. (Post)

Economic development
It's been described as a place where airplanes go to die. True, but most of the aircraft that come to Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla., get refurbished or modified with the latest military gear and leave more capable than when they arrived. The airport is close to four military bases and has managed to carve a niche for itself. (Post)

NASA has selected 108 research and technology proposals from U.S. small businesses that will enable NASA's future missions. The selected proposals now will enter into negotiations for contract awards as part of Phase II of the agency's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. The selected aerospace technology and innovation projects have a total value of some $87 million, supporting 99 U.S. firms in 26 states. Two selected proposals involve technology being administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Textron Inc. has closed on its purchase of Beech Holdings LLC, parent of Beechcraft Corp. It brings together its Textron’s Cessna business and Beechcraft to form a new segment called Textron Aviation, which together produced about $4.6 billion in revenues during 2013. Textron owns Texas-based Bell Helicopter, which said late last year that it will build a new line of helicopters in Lafayette, La. Textron Marine and Land Systems has a plant in New Orleans. (Post)

HII: Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., is being provided $602 million under a previously awarded contract to fund construction and exercised options for one DDG 51 class ship in fiscal 2014. Most of the work will be done in Pascagoula. (Post)
NGI: The Northern Gulf Institute, headquartered at Stennis Space Center, Miss., has partnered with a group of institutions in Mexico to advance the study of the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. (Post)
Appointment: Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., has announced that Mike Lipski will be the company's vice president of business development, effective April 1. (Post)
Keel laying: Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., held a keel laying ceremony for the future USNS Trenton early in the week. (Post)
Austal: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., is being provided funding in the amount of $683.7 million under a previously awarded contract for construction of two fiscal 2014 littoral combat ships. (Post)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Week in review (3/2 to 3/8)

The March edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League aerospace quarterly, which covers aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region, will be published Tuesday. The 8-page PDF will be available at Gulf Coast Aerospace Individual stories also will be posted on the daily aerospace news feed during the week.

In the latest issue you'll find a story by former Mobile Press-Register reporter Connie Baggett about the Mobile Aeroplex, where Airbus is building its final assembly line. Think Mobile is done now that it's got an Airbus assembly line? Think again. There's also a piece about the Mobile Airport Authority's new branding campaign designed for an international audience.

Tom McLaughlin, a reporter with the Northwest Florida Daily News, wrote about Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, which has found a niche providing services to four nearby military bases. The airport is also where one company salvages retired jetliners and refurbishes parts for resale.

Interested in drones? Lisa Monti, former business editor of the Biloxi Sun Herald, wrote about Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. Workers there play a role in building the world's most capable, high-tech unmanned systems. And they're in a great field that's expected to grow dramatically.

Duwayne Escobedo is a former reporter and editor at several of this region’s publications. He recently visited the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., and saw OZ. That's not the wizard variety, but an aircraft display being developed by the internationally known research institute. It's intended to make flying easier by eliminating the confusing array of dials. Experienced pilots who tried it found it made flying easier.

I also want to give a special thanks to our newsletter underwriters from Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. We don't run advertisements and don't charge anyone to read these stories. We want as many people as possible, here and abroad, to better understand this aspect of the Gulf Coast region. Our underwriters make it possible for us to continue this work. They sponsor the newsletter sight unseen because they believe there's a great story to be told.

The March issue is sponsored by Pensacola International Airport, Gulf Power, Santa Rosa Economic Development, Mobile Airport Authority, Mobile Chamber, Trent Lott International Airport, Mississippi Enterprise for Technology and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.

Now for the week in review:

NASA's $17.5 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2015 provides funding for the agency's top priorities. It includes $2.8 billion for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion multi-purpose vehicle; $848 million for the Commercial Crew Program that helps fund private efforts to sent astronauts to the International Space Station; and $3.05 billion to run the ISS, including money for continued cargo shipments by SpaceX and Orbital Science.

The NASA budget is important to Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, both of which are involved in those programs. The budget also would ramp up funding to fly astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 as part of a steppingstone approach to Mars. The budget is $190 million below the fiscal 2014 level. (Post)

Airbus is looking for a quality performance manager for its A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile. Ala. The position requires a minimum associate or technical degree with a focus on manufacturing, quality management, industrial engineering or business administration. It requires at least nine months training abroad. (Post)

That $600 million plant is being built to help ease the backlog of orders for the popular plane. We already told you in a previous post how severe that backlog has become. This week we heard about the downside of that backlog.

Case in point: Air Serbia and Mandala Airlines have canceled two separate orders for a combined 33 of the A320 family jetliners. The cancelations are linked to airline restructuring in Serbia and Indonesia. Mandala, now known as Tigerair Mandala, placed its order for 25 planes in 2007, but none was ever delivered and the order was canceled last month. Air Serbia's orders were made in 1998. (Reuters, Aviation Week blog)

True, the immediate cause for the cancelations is restructuring, but the broader picture shows the backlog is a problem because it gives far too much time to companies to change their mind. It makes it abundantly clear why Airbus needs the Mobile plant.

Two months ago Airbus said it had an order book of 5,559 airplanes, led by its A320 family. That represents more than eight years of assembly work. (Post) Last month Airbus said it would increase monthly production of the single-aisle aircraft from 42 to 46 in Q2 2016. That will happen gradually, with an intermediate step of 44 planes a month in Q1 2016. (Post)

-- One plane type that is unlikely to end up on the Airbus order book is Air Force One. The Presidential Aircraft Replacement Program has reappeared in the 2015 budget. So will Airbus compete? Unlikely, according to Allan McArtor, new CEO of Airbus Americas. He told reporters at a breakfast that Air Force One would be a tough business case and would require a tremendous amount of modifications to a very small fleet. One could safely assume that if new planes are built for the president, they'll like be made by Boeing. (Breaking Defense)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recognized three businesses during the week with the Governor's Business Ambassador Award for commitment in creating jobs. One recipient was Fort Walton Machining, a family-owned small business that provides assembly, metal finishing, and machining services to the aerospace, defense, medical, and high-tech commercial industries. Established in 1987, the company today employs 220 workers. (Post)

In Pensacola, Fla., the Escambia County Commission pledged $8 million in local option sales tax revenue to bring the ST Aerospace aircraft maintenance and repair facility to Pensacola International Airport. The county will loan the city $3.2 million, to be repaid by 2020, and provide a further $4.8 million in direct contributions.

The Singapore-based company plans to hire 300 people for the Pensacola operation. The company also has a major operation in Mobile, Ala., where it has been one of the long-time tenants of the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. (Post)

-- Southwest Airlines this fall will temporarily cease direct service from Panama City, Fla.'s Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) this fall. Direct flights to Baltimore will not be available between Aug. 9 and Nov. 11 as part of a seasonal adjustment. (Post)

-- Cross Environmental Services Inc. was named a subcontractor for demolition and remediation services of maintenance facilities at Duke Field, Fla. The work is valued at $148,700. It's the start of a 3-phase project that requires abatement of asbestos material and the demolition of three one-story buildings. CES, headquartered in Crystal Springs, Fla., has branch offices in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and New Orleans. (Post)

Because this area is highly interested in stories about unmanned aerial systems, here's an interesting item that occurred as the week drew to a close.

An administrative law judge struck down a $10,000 fine levied by the FAA against a man who flew a small model plane in 2011 for commercial purposes. The FAA, which called the model plane an unmanned aircraft system, says that's not permitted.

Raphael Pirker flew a Ritewing Zephyr "powered glider" over the University of Virginia to shoot video and photographs for compensation, according to FAA documents. The Zephyr is what most people might call a model airplane.

On Thursday an administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board ruled in Pirker's favor. In his decision, Patrick Geraghty said to conclude that a model aircraft and its operator are subject to the same regulatory requirements as an aircraft and its operator would lead to the conclusion that the term "aircraft" encompasses all types of flying devises, including "paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider."

We'll keep a close watch on this case since the FAA plans to appeal. (Flightglobal)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $7.7 million modification to the previously awarded low rate initial production lot 6 advanced acquisition contract for F-35 aircraft. The modification provides for the procurement of non-recurring sustainment activities for the government of the United Kingdom. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. … Concurrent Technologies Corp., Johnstown, Pa., was awarded a $15.3 million contract to provide engineering services in support of the continued modification of the carriage, stream, tow and recovery system to incorporate airborne countermeasures capabilities. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Arête Associates, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $10.2 million modification to previously awarded contract (N6133-11-C-0007) for Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Program Systems Support for the AN/DVS-1 COBRA Block 1 System and support equipment. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Week in review (2/23 to 3/1)

The Pentagon's proposal of a nearly half-trillion dollar defense budget had some fairly positive news for the Gulf Coast region's military. While it does call for a smaller Army, it wants to strengthen Special Operations forces and the nation's cyberwarfare capabilities. Both are important focus areas of the military along the Gulf Coast.

We have U.S. Air Force Special Operations headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and the Army's 7th Special Forces Group is at Eglin Air Force Base's Duke Field. Over at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., Naval Special Warfare has two operations: Special Boat Team 22, which specializes in riverine warfare, and the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School. The Pearl River is used by Navy SEALS for training.

And cyberwarfare? Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is the home of Air Force electronics training, including cybersecurity, and training in cybersecurity is also done to the east at Hurlburt Field. In Pensacola, Fla., Corry Station is the Navy's Center for Information Dominance.

The Pentagon's proposed budget also provides money for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. The budget also retires the U-2 spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawks, which are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

The Pentagon proposal is subject to Congressional approval. (Post)

The construction of the Airbus A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., is moving forward pretty quickly. In the latest, Birmingham-based Brasfield and Gorrie LLC was awarded the first of four general contractor packages for the $600 million plant.

The contractor will be responsible for the outfitting and completion of the final assembly line hangar and construction of the service building and logistics center. The contract was awarded by Hoar Program Management. The plant will open in 2015 and the first jetliner will be produced in 2016. (Post)

No doubt that plant will help Airbus meet demand for the popular plane. During the week Airbus said it will increase production of its best-selling single-aisle aircraft family to 46 a month in Q2 2016, up from the current rate 42. The new higher production rate will be achieved gradually, with an intermediate step at 44 aircraft per month in Q1 2016.

Over the past five years, Airbus has steadily increased A320 family production, going from rate 36 at the end of 2010 to rate 38 in August 2011, then up to rate 40 in Q1 2012 to reach 42 per month in Q4 of the same year. (Post)

While we're on the subject of jetliner production, the Airbus A320 final assembly line in Tianjin, China, delivered 46 aircraft last year, an increase of about 25 percent over 2012. The plant's general manager said the company is evaluating the possibility of producing two more aircraft this year. Tianjin, the third Airbus final assembly line in the world after Toulouse in France and Hamburg in Germany, assembled its first aircraft in May 2009. It makes the A319 and A320 for the Chinese market. (Post)

As if to underscore just how popular that plane is, China Eastern Airlines Corp. during the week ordered $6.4 billion single-aisle planes from Airbus Group to meet demand in a country set to become the world's biggest aircraft market. The 70 planes will be delivered between 2018 and 2020. The airline is buying A320neos, the most fuel-efficient version of the single-aisle planes. (Post)

In another purchase, Kuwait Airways ordered 25 aircraft including 10 A350-900 and 15 A320neo family aircraft as part of the airlines’ fleet renewal strategy. It already operates three A320, three A310, five A300 and four A340 family aircraft. (Post)

-- The Airbus Puerto Real plant in Cádiz, Spain, is leading a project to expand the automation of its assembly processes with the use of two-arm humanoid robots to perform repetitive tasks. The project could be used across other Airbus sites. One of the research areas is called the “Collaborative Robots” project, which explores the use of two-arm “humanoid” robots designed to work in the same environment as human operators, sharing tools and production resources. (Post)

The first full joint testing between NASA and the Navy of Orion recovery procedures off the coast of California was suspended recently after the team experienced issues with handling lines securing a test version of Orion inside the well deck of the USS San Diego. Orion, part of NASA's ambitious Space Launch System project, will take astronauts deeper into space than ever before. An unmanned test from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is set for September 2014.

Orion is built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and rocket engines for the Space Launch System, the primary launch vehicle, will be tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The launch vehicle for Exploration Flight Test-1 will be a Delta IV, built by United Launch Alliance, which uses Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68 engines tested at Stennis Space Center. (Post)

-- The U.S. Air Force Space Command awarded BAE Systems in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., a three-year contract extension to continue maintaining space radars used for missile warning and space surveillance operations. The award is a continuation of work that BAE Systems has been done since 2007.

The Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS) is a network of radars that tracks more than 16,000 objects orbiting Earth. The radar system identifies various man-made objects in space, and also tracks objects that may enter the atmosphere, information vital to air missile defense operations and to protecting against submarine-launched ballistic missiles. SSPARS is capable of about 40,000 space observations daily. (Post)

Economic development
In the past decade it appeared the future of aerospace original equipment manufacturing would be in low-cost countries. But then the real world stepped in. Labor costs increased in those countries, and new technologies made it all less labor-intensive.

Today the hottest new aerospace cluster is not in China, but the U.S. Southeast, according to an opinion piece in Aviation Week. Boeing, Embraer, Airbus Rolls-Royce and Airbus Helicopters have or will have established final assembly facilities in the region, and dozens of sub-tier suppliers are following suit. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin has broken ground on its Pike County Operations' Long Range Strike Systems cruise missile production annex in Troy, Ala. The planned 62,000 square-foot annex will expand the existing 92,000-square-foot manufacturing facility where the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) is produced. The facility employs some 300 full-time employees and over 100 contractors. (Post)

-- The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County got a $195,000 grant from the Florida Defense Support Task Force to research, support and expand innovative community partnerships between Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and local governments. The grant's 12-month scope of work will be overseen by the Community Partnership Initiative committee.

As military installations continue to plan for the fiscal impact of a declining Department of Defense budget, bases are being encouraged to engage in innovative community partnerships designed to lessen operational costs while also benefiting the installation’s host community. (Post)

-- In Pensacola, Fla., despite some mild concerns about noise or air pollution, for the most part the conversations at a public meeting Tuesday were all about jobs and the positive economic impact ST Aerospace would have on the local economy. Joseph Ng, president of ST Aerospace's aircraft maintenance and repair operation in Mobile, Ala., said he hoped ST could begin servicing commercial jet liners by the first quarter of 2016. He said most jobs would be paying in a range between $30,000 and $58,000 annually. (Post)

The Air Force has released a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes the environmental impacts associated with where the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft will beddown on the Eglin Reservation and how they might be operated. The Final SEIS contains analyses of operational alternatives and presents mitigations for the F-35 aircraft at Eglin under the February 2009 Record of Decision. (Post)

-- Col. David Tabor took over as commander of the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center during a ceremony at Duke Field, Fla., Thursday. The center, which has about 1,000 employees, trains and equips all special operations airmen. The center is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, but has units at Duke, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., and Robins Air Force Base, Ga. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jon Weeks, the previous commander, was fired last month amid allegations that he had an inappropriate personal relationship. (Post)

Exelis received a more than $13 million contract to provide the Naval Surface Warfare Center with depot level repair, maintenance and modifications for two mine defense systems currently fielded with the U.S. Navy. The Exelis MK-105 Minesweeping System and Airborne Mine Neutralization System is used for high-speed airborne mine countermeasures. The MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter tows the MK-105 through the water to detonate mines. Work under this contract will be performed in Panama City, Fla., and is expected to be completed by December 2014. … PRIDE Industries, Roseville, Calif., was awarded a $13.8 million modification to multi-year contract for the Department of Public Works-Base Operations, Fort Rucker, Ala. Work will be performed at Fort Rucker. Army Contracting Command, Fort Rucker, is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $10.2 million modification for an existing contract for Joint Air-to-Surface Strategic Missile anti-jam GPS receiver. Work will be performed at Orlando, Fla., and Troy, Ala., and is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2016. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co. Missile Systems, Tucson Ariz., was awarded a $20 million contract for support of requirements associated with performance of the AMRAAM Aircraft Integration, aircraft operational testing related activities and flight test support. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is one of the work sites. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBA, Eglin AFB is the contracting activity.

Austal: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $7.1 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise an option for post-delivery support for the USS Jackson. Seventy percent of the work will be performed in Mobile. (Post)
LCS: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said his considerable reservations about the Littoral Combat Ship led him to bar planning for any more than 32 ships, 20 fewer than the Navy's $34 billion program. One version of the ship is made in Mobile, Ala. (Post)