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. … ArĂȘte 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.

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