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)

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