Saturday, May 26, 2018

Week in review (5/20 to 5/26)

One of the more intriguing aviation issues in the Gulf Coast aerospace region is the possibility that Mobile, Ala., may transfer commercial air service from its airport in suburban west Mobile to the Mobile Aeroplex south of downtown.

The Mobile Airport Authority is waiting for the results of a feasibility study, expected next month. This possible move has received a lot of attention, in part because it's so unusual. According to a story in, the usual trend is for airports in a downtown area looking to move to the suburbs, where there's more room for growth. Indeed, that's what happened in our region's Panama City, Fla., where the airport moved from downtown to a site in a rural part of Bay County.

But this study is for a move from suburban Mobile County to the urban center.

Mobile Regional Airport has handled commercial flights since 1986. The Mobile Aeroplex, formerly called Brookley Field, today handles cargo and general aviation, and is also an industrial hub – most notably the location where Airbus builds A320 series jetliners and where Bombardier hopes to build its CSeries jetliners. And those are just two of the aviation activities.

It will be interesting seeing the pros and cons that surface. I can tell you now that one of the arguments in favor is that a downtown location will be more convenient for air travelers since it's right along Interstate 10, and is likely to be more appealing to air travelers from fast-growing Baldwin County to Mobile's east.

But it will also bring a lot more air traffic to the facility, which is currently used by UPS and FedEx for their operations.

It's not hard to see why the Mobile Airport Authority is looking at this issue. Mobile Regional Airport has fewer boarding passengers than any of its Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor neighbors, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The big dog, of course, is Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, which is in a category by itself in this region with 5,569,705 enplanements in 2016, up from 5,329,711 the previous year.

To the immediate east of Mobile, Pensacola International Airport had 792,916 enplanements in 2016, up from 787,916 the previous year. Further to the east, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport at Eglin Air Force Base had 440,002 enplanements in 2016, up from 373,072 in 2015.

Going further to the east, Northwest Florida Beaches International, a new airport that replaced the downtown Panama City airport, had 434,302 enplanements in 2016, up from 428,704 the previous year.

Next in the number of passengers is Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, to the west of Mobile, which had 305,157 enplanements in 2016, down from 317,154 the previous year. The Mississippi airport is the only airport in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor region that experienced a drop in passengers from 2015.

Then there's Mobile Regional Airport, bringing up the rear with 288,209 enplanements in 2016, up from 278,053 in 2015. It's not hard to see why airport officials are taking a look at measures to increase air traffic. The more airlines, the more competition and the lower to prices.

This is not the first time Mobile has looked at ways to increase air traffic. For any of you folks who have been around a while, there was a time back in the late '90s when there was talk about creating a brand new airport in Baldwin County to serve both Mobile and Pensacola. But that plan never took off. Now there's this approach.

We’ll keep you posted on how this progresses.

In another airport story during the week, demolition of buildings to clear the way for a new terminal at Louisiana’s Lafayette Regional Airport could begin in a few months. The airport administration received an environmental assessment from the FAA and is advertising for someone to demolish several structures.

The work will include remediation of an old hangar, which contains asbestos and lead. The design of the new terminal is about 60 percent complete. It should be released to the airport commission and public in July. Lafayette is an hour west of Baton Rouge and two hours from New Orleans along Interstate 10. (Post)

By the way, Lafayette Regional Airport had 206,667 enplanements in 2016, down from 243,840 in 2015.

Allegiant Air took delivery this week of its first U.S.-built A320 jetliner - the 69th aircraft built at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility at the Mobile Aeroplex.

The plane is the 11th of 13 new A320s scheduled for purchase by Allegiant. The previous A320s were built by Airbus in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Allegiant is transitioning to a single fleet type aircraft by the end of the year. It currently has 99 Airbus aircraft either in service or committed for future delivery.

Allegiant, headquartered in Las Vegas, began service in 1999 and now has more than 80 aircraft serving 350 routes. (Post)

These deliveries are good news for Mobile, Allegiant and the flying public, and could go a long way towards getting the airlines past the bad publicity it received in a recent 60 Minutes segment. The story blasted Allegiant for its safety record, saying it had three times as many mechanical problems with flights as six competing airlines during a year of reports filed with the FAA. Most of the problems involved the MD-80, which is among the oldest aircraft operating today. Allegiant’s vice president of operations issued a statement after the program that said the story was outdated and shows a troubling misunderstanding of the FAA’s oversight of airlines. (Story)

The airline and some of the analysts who cover it say it is safe and on track to put many of its operational problems behind it, according to a story in USA Today. If the carrier was unsafe to fly the FAA would suspend the airlines operating certificate. Many of the carrier’s aircraft are older and require more maintenance, according to one contributing columnist.

In this region, Allegiant serves Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Gulfport-Biloxi, and Louis Armstrong.

The Navy's F-35C may not have the range it needs to strike enemy targets, the House Armed Services Committee said in a new report. It raises questions about whether the multibillion-dollar program is already outpaced by threats.

The committee's conclusion is in the 606-page report on the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill. The F-35C may not have enough range without refueling, and that's by aircraft that are not stealthy, opening both to enemy attack.

In another F-35 story, the Israeli version of the F-35 has now been used in combat for the first time. The Israel Defense Forces announced on its Twitter account that the Israeli version of the fighter, using its "Adir" moniker, was used in operational missions. The Israeli Air Force used the F-35 in two recent strikes in Syria. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $558.3 million contract that provides for sustainment support, including equipment, training devices, training facilities, non-aircraft spares, Autonomic Logistics Information System hardware and software, and facilities standup in support of low-rate initial production Lot 11 F-35 Lightning II aircraft in support of the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy; non-Department of Defense (DoD) participants, and foreign military sales (FMS) customers. Work will be performed in Florida, California, Texas, New York, and the United Kingdom and is expected to be completed in February 2023. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $19.9 million for a modification to a delivery order previously issued against a basic ordering agreement. This modification provides for additional radar upgrades to Block 3F configuration Air Force and Marine Corp F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in June 2021. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $13.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway IIs. Work will be performed in Tucson and is expected to be completed by Jan. 31, 2019. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Week in review (5/13 to 5/19)

Remember the battle between Boeing and Airbus over the contract to build Air Force aerial tankers? As a refresher, Airbus in 2008 won the contract to build them in Mobile, Ala., but lost it in 2011 in the wake of a protest by Boeing. The tankers are now being built in Everett, Wash.

As anyone who has followed aviation will tell you, Mobile arguably got a better deal in the long-run when Airbus decided to leverage its relationship with Mobile and build A320 series jetliners in the city. The company began churning them out a couple of years ago, and is now producing four a month. Now it’s getting ready to increase that, and Mobile also will be the site where CSeries jetliners for Canada's Bombardier will be built.

And the Boeing KC-46 aerial tanker? Seven years since the contract award, no deliveries yet. Aviation Week reported during the week that Boeing says it's on the cusp of delivering a game-changing tanker capability. But the Air Force says Boeing has to resolve significant design flaws and is far from completing the required flight testing.

Boeing and the Air Force disagree on the delivery timing and what work remains. Boeing says it will deliver of first 18 KC-46 planes by the end of the year, but the Air Force expects them by May 2019, 21 months later than originally planned.

You can read the May 14 Aviation Week story here.

Speaking of Airbus and Boeing, the U.S. during the week won a trade case challenging subsidies that European Union nations had provided Airbus to develop A350 and A380 jetliners. The ruling affirmed a 2016 World Trade Organization ruling that the EU failed to eliminate unfair funding for the two Airbus models. The next stage of the 14-year battle will be over the size of the tariffs the U.S. will be allowed to impose to compensate for lost exports.

But this whole affair is far from over. Later this year, the WTO is expected to issue a final ruling in a separate case in which the EU challenged billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Boeing. The EU won the first round in that court battle. (Post)

NASA's Space Launch System program may be facing a new delay.

NASA discovered a contamination problem with tubing in part of the core stage of the first Space Launch System vehicle. According to SpaceNews, a routine inspection of the core stage being built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans found contamination in the engine section that holds the SLS’s four RS-25 engines and associated systems.

The contaminant is paraffin wax, used to keep the tubes from crimping while being manufactured. The prime contractor, Boeing, determined the unnamed vendor was not fully cleaning the tubes as required. The contamination was initially found in a single tube, but later checks found similar residue in other tubes. All the tubing in the core stage is now being inspected and cleaned.

NASA previously said it expects the core stage to be completed and shipped to Stennis Space Center, Miss., at the end of this year for a green run engine tests by mid-2019. (Post)

-- NASA has announced some leadership changes at Stennis Space Center. John Bailey will assume the role of associate director following the retirement of Ken Human, effective May 31.

Bailey, a native of Mobile, Ala., and resident of Picayune, Miss., previously served as Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate director. Human, a resident of Covington, La., has served almost 40 years with NASA and was named as Stennis associate director in 2010. Bailey will be succeeded as director of the Engineering and Test Directorate by Joe Schuyler, who has served as the department deputy since 2016. (Post)

Economic development
Another MRO is coming to the region.

Gov John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said Citadel Completions LLC will make a $17.6 million investment and hire more than 250 people for an aircraft center for interior jet modifications and maintenance at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, three west of New Orleans along Interstate 10.

The company estimates the new jobs will have an average annual salary of $80,000, plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in an additional 347 indirect jobs. Hiring for the project is underway, with Citadel Completions expecting to begin operations by the third quarter of 2018. (Post)

One of the newest MRO in the region, VTMAE in Pensacola, will be opening this summer.

The Air Force trying to determine how best to acquire more PGU-14 ammunition, currently made by Orbital ATK, for the A-10. Its existing bullet inventory, some 32 years old, is beginning to age out, said Bob DuPont of the 780th Test Squadron's guns and missiles department at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

It is unknown if the Air Force will stick with 30mm depleted-uranium bullets or if it will switch to a tungsten round. Depleted uranium is used for its ability to pierce armored vehicles, as it is 60 percent more dense than lead. Tungsten is comparable to uranium but a bit less dense, so manufacturers must balance out the weight to match today's PGU-14 rounds, which weigh roughly 14 ounces each.

The service is reaching out to the defense industry to see if adding a mix of alloy samples will allow tungsten to meet requirements. DU PGU-14 bullets are tested every two years on the base's northern range in a controlled fire exercise, required by the Pentagon for the ammo to be recertified for use in combat. (Post)

-- The U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Rucker, Ala., was among five installations to win the 2018 Commander in Chief’s Annual Award for Installation Excellence. Fort Rucker in South Alabama is the primary flight training base for Army aviators.

The awards recognize the outstanding and innovative efforts of the people who operate and maintain U.S. military installations. The five recipients were selected for their exemplary support of Department of Defense missions.

The other bases to be recognized are Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin, Calif. (Post)

-- Four AC-130U Spooky gunship crews with the 4th Special Operations Squadron were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses for four separate engagements in Afghanistan spanning less than one year. Twenty-four airmen were awarded the honors during a May 11 ceremony. Three airmen were unable to attend. The DFC is awarded to any officer or enlisted personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces who have distinguished themselves in combat aerial operations. (Post)

-- The Snowbirds flight demonstration team, Canada’s 431st Air Demonstration Squadron, made a rare appearance at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., during the week. The visit to the home of the Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team, included practice sessions opened to the public. The Blue Angels practice schedule was modified to accommodate both teams. The Snowbirds use CT-114 Tutors, a Canadian-built jet. (Post)

The grand opening ceremony for the Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Museum and Flight Academy in Pensacola, Fla., is scheduled for June 7 at 10 a.m. The city-owned site is the historic home of America's first African-American four-star general, Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., and was donated to the city by the family.

The residence, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1909 by James’ father, Daniel James Sr., and is located at 1608 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The Community Redevelopment Agency restored the original 900 square-foot home to house a museum.

A new 1,500 sq. foot addition is now the home of the flight academy, which has been offering young people of Pensacola opportunities to train to be aviators for over two decades through their free one-week summer camps. The Flight Academy's classrooms, which are to be equipped with computers and flight simulator programs, will have its first summer camp at the new location June 11-16, 2018. (Post)

L3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $42.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for the organizational and depot level logistics services required to support and maintain the TH-57 fleet. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and is expected to be completed in November 2018. The Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Orlando, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp., Atlanta, has been awarded a $25.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for an increase in the indefinite delivery/indefinite-quantity ceiling. This modification provides for research, analysis, integration, systems engineering, development, flyable and non-flyable technology demonstrators, prototypes, test and evaluation, and rapid delivery of cutting-edge weapon solutions to the Department of Defense to counter emerging threats affecting national security. Work will be performed in Atlanta and is expected to be complete by December 2020. Air Force Research Laboratory, Munitions Directorate, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $45 million advance acquisition contract for long-lead materials components, material, parts, and associated efforts required to maintain the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system planned production schedule. Work will be done in California, West Virginia, Maryland, Utah, Texas, Ohio and various locations in the continental U.S. and locations outside the continental U.S., and is expected to be completed in January 2019. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Northrop Grumman does fuselage work on the Triton in Moss Point, Miss. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $24 million for a modification to a previously awarded contract for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Verification Simulation F-35 In-A-Box (FIAB) Phase II for delivery of the FIAB software model, software license fees, and continued FIAB software model development, integration, and support. Work will be performed in Fort Worth and Marietta, Ga., and is expected to be completed in September 2018. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. … The Boeing Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $16.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the exercise of an option for BLU-127 warhead cases. This contract modification provides for the procurement of BLU-127 warhead cases, and brings the total cumulative face value of the contract to $37,151,052. Work will be performed in St. Louis and is expected to be complete by July 31, 2020. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Week in review (5/6 to 5/12)

When it came to aerospace and aviation stories of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week, it was dominated by military-related items.

In Washington, the House Armed Services Committee approved plans for a $716 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2019 by a 60–1 vote. Among other things, it provides the largest military pay raise in nine years. It now it heads for a vote by the full House later this month and negotiations will the Senate later this year. (Story)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla), a member of the committee, said in a newsletter to constituents that the measure is a big victory for Northwest Florida. It includes $10 million for refurbishing the North Field Air Traffic Control Tower at Naval Air Station Whiting Field; $60 million for F-35A spare parts at Eglin Air Force Base; $34.8 million for F-35A Integrated Training Center Academics Building at Eglin; $28 million for F-35A Student Dormitory II at Eglin; and $31.9 million for Eglin Test Range Modernization.

Meanwhile in Pensacola, six admirals shared their thoughts on the future of Navy aviation Friday on the last day of the National Naval Aviation Museum's 2018 Symposium. Participating in a panel discussion, they told hundreds of young Navy and Marine flight students that the aircraft they fly and technology they use will change, but the fundamentals remain the fight-to-win mentality. The Pensacola News Journal has a summary on the comments by each of the admirals. (Story)

Over at Eglin Air Force Base, one of the busiest F-35 training units is hoping the Air Force can relieve some of the pressures of training student pilots with ineffective resources. The 33rd Fighter Wing, leading training wing for F-35 student pilots, hopes to receive additional F-35A fighters, along with considerable upgrades to its existing fleet, to keep up with training demands, said Col. Paul Moga, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing.

Moga told the unit has found smarter ways inside the existing structure of the 33rd to get more quality sorties into the curriculum despite limitations. "We're the first Air Force wing to start doing what we call 'hot swaps,'" Moga said, referring to different student/instructor pairs swapping out for back-to-back flights in a single aircraft in order to save time and execute more sorties.

The 33rd has 25 F-35As and the Navy, which also has a presence on the base and sends pilots through the training pipeline here, keeps 8 F-35Cs on station. The wing is authorized to have 59 aircraft. The fifth-generation stealth plane arrived here in 2011 and made the 33rd Fighter Wing the first U.S. F-35 training unit. The first class of student pilots started training in 2013. The planes, part of the first low rate initial production batch, need additional work. (Post)

Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $21.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract. This modification increases the quantity of Bell 407 variant commercial airframes through fiscal 2020 by seven in support of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned air system program of record. Work will be performed in Ozark, Ala., and is expected to be completed in December 2020. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Finishing work on Fire Scouts is done in Moss Point, Miss. … Bullock Tice Associates Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was among the companies that will compete for each order of a $49 million contract for architect and engineering services. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity.