Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teams from region show-bound

Teams representing portions of the Gulf Coast I-10 region are heading to Europe this week to attend the Farnborough International Airshow near London. They're all hoping to convince aerospace companies that this region is a great place to do business.

The Farnborough show held in Hampshire some 40 miles from London is one of the largest events of its kind. It's held every other year and combines a major trade exhibition with a public air show. This year it's from July 14-20. In 2012 the trade and public shows combined attracted more than 200,000.

For economic development officials, it's an opportunity to meet with a large number of prospects that in normal circumstances would require a lot of travel to separate locations. In addition, the folks who attend the air show are the company's top-ranking officials.

While the official start of the show is Monday, the night before that the Aerospace Alliance, a group representing the aerospace interests of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, will host a reception. This year it's a cruise on the Thames River. There will be 500 attendees, including senior government officials and aerospace industry leaders.

The Aerospace Alliance has gotten pretty good at setting up these well-attended events. It hosted its first reception in 2010 at the Orangery at Kensington Palace, and then in 2012 it was at the Banqueting House. This will be the first cruise in London, which is the same format the Aerospace Alliance has used at the Paris air shows in 2011 and 2013.

Team Mobile will include representatives from Mobile and Baldwin counties. The team will showcase the greater Mobile area's aerospace assets as part of the state of Alabama’s exhibit. And those assets are considerable. While much of the publicity about the Mobile area has been the Airbus A320 final assembly line, that's just one of the assets. The greater Mobile area is also home to UTC Aerospace Systems, ST Aerospace Mobile, Safran, Star Aviation, Continental Motors and more.

The Mobile team will have one-on-one meetings with potential Airbus suppliers, suppliers of some of Mobile’s existing aerospace workforce, and industry executives. And on July 15 the Mobile delegation will host more than 175 invited guests to a reception at the Spencer House. Event hosts include Alabama Power, Alabama State Port Authority, Baldwin County Commission, Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, City of Mobile, Mobile Airport Authority, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Mobile County and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.

Northwest Florida has also been a consistent participant in international air shows. This year a five-member delegation leaves for London this week with the goal of bringing aviation jobs to the region. Northwest Florida also has a lot going in its favor. It's home to operations of some of the largest aerospace companies in the world, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE systems and more.

Northwest Florida is well known for its massive military activities, including aerial weapons development and military pilot training. One of the most high-profile aerospace activities in the region is the training F-35 pilots and maintainers. It's also the place where pilots for another fifth generation fighter, the F-22, are trained.

The Northwest Florida team is headed up by Florida’s Great Northwest, the region’s economic development marketing organization. The team also has representatives from Gulf Power, PowerSouth, the Greater Pensacola Chamber and Bay County Economic Development Alliance. The team has set up appointments over four days with leading global aerospace companies.

"We will be meeting with the decision makers of aerospace OEMs and major suppliers to discuss why we believe they can be successful in Northwest Florida," said Larry Sassano, president of Florida’s Great Northwest. "Aviation companies are one of our top targets and there is no better place than Farnborough to have a captive audience with this many companies."

The state of Florida will also have a booth at the air show to promote incentives, workforce advantages, tax advantages and other business-friendly programs available to prospective aviation companies. Enterprise Florida will lead a delegation of 11 Florida companies and organizations to the show, said Gray Swoope, Florida Secretary of Commerce and president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.

"The show allows us to meet with global leaders in the aerospace industry and share Florida's business story with them," said Swoope. "It also provides a cost-effective opportunity for Florida's small businesses, communities and organizations to exhibit their products and services on the largest stage in the world."

Groups from Mississippi and Louisiana also planned to attend the airshow.

But don't expect to hear much about inroads any of the teams make. They keep things close to their chest. But what you will hear about is the placement of orders. Airbus, Boeing and other companies like to publicize the sales they've made.

In past years, it was Airbus' decision to build an A320 final assembly line in Mobile that drew a lot of attention. This year it's another aircraft with a Gulf Coast connection that will be a hot topic: The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The plan was to have the F-35B, the Marine Corps variant that can take off and land vertically, appear at both the military-oriented Royal International Tattoo July 11-13 and Farnborough. But as of this writing, it's still unclear if the fifth generation fighters will be cleared to fly to Europe.

Earlier this month an F-35A, the Air Force's conventional take-off and landing variant, caught fire as it was getting ready for takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Pentagon grounded the planes while an investigation continues. At issue is the F135 engine made by Pratt and Whitney that powers all variants of the JSF.

This is the second Pratt and Whitney engine type that has caused the grounding of a plane in recent months. In late May, a problem with the low pressure turbine led to a sudden loss of power and failure of a PW1500G on a Bombardier test aircraft during ground runs in Quebec. The incident occurred on the left engine and caused damage to the airframe, leading to the grounding of the CSeries test fleet.

As for the F135 engine, it’s had other problems before the Eglin fire. Earlier in June an F-35B near Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., had a major engine oil leak due to a separated oil inlet line from the oil flow management valve fitting. The problem was resolved quickly. Then on Dec. 23, an F135 fan failure developed in the first stage of the JSF’s three-stage unit during ground tests at Pratt and Whitney’s West Palm Beach, Fla., facility. The fan cracked during accelerated mission tests on ground engine FX648. The incident had no impact on the current fleet of F-35s, and for good reason.

It happened as the engine reached 77 percent of its required life, 2,200 hours of running time, or about nine years of service as a test engine. The company said the engine had more than four times the hours of any engine used in F-35 flight testing.

And before that, in 2013 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., a crack was discovered in a third-stage low-pressure turbine blade on an F-35 test aircraft. That caused the temporary grounding of the F-35 fleet.

But that's one of the problems with concurrency, the concept of building production models while finishing ground and flight testing. The problems that have been cropping up with the F-35 would have been caught before planes were produced under the normal way of doing business, and the issues wouldn't have received much publicity.

For the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin, showing F-35s at Tattoo and Farnborough represented a chance to show progress for the high-priced acquisition program. And that's important since sales for foreign governments will help drive down the cost of each plane.

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