Saturday, January 4, 2014

Week in review (12/29 to 1/4)

Call it déjà vu.

On Friday the machinists union in Washington State approved an 8-year contract with Boeing that waters down some worker benefits, but does guarantee the 777X and composite wings will be built in the Puget Sound. (Post)

The immediate impact on Alabama was a sudden end to its attempt to bring the Boeing plant to Huntsville. But Alabama wasn't alone. A lot of other states that bid for the plant were also left holding the bag.

This whole turn of events shouldn't surprise anyone. This is all reminiscent of 2002, when Boeing was looking for a place to build 787s only to stay put in Washington State after it got a lot of incentives. But to see it as just an attempt by Boeing to twist the arm of the union and state would be a mistake.

The concerns of the state and workers is quite real, and with good reason. Recent history tells us Boeing is slowly but surely moving pieces of the Washington State enterprise to other locations. Corporate headquarters is now in Chicago, and a second 787 assembly line is in South Carolina. Engineering work on the 777X has also migrated away from Puget Sound. Huntsville is getting a piece of that action.

And there's another way to look at Boeing's search for a 777X site. True, the contest is at an end, but the effort did provide Boeing with fresh insight into the desire of other locations to host a Boeing plant. And if the 777X proves to be as popular as some think it will be, it may  one day need a second production line.

But Boeing wasn't the only economic development disappointment for this region and others. Early in the week the Federal Aviation Administration announced the locations where it would establish unmanned aerial system test and development centers.

Proposals from Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Virginia came out on top. These sites will be key players in the effort to integrate drones into the nation's air space. The University of Alaska's proposal includes seven climatic zones and test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon.

New York's Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into congested airspace. Virginia Tech's proposal includes test ranges over both Virginia and New Jersey. The congressionally-mandated test sites will conduct research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years. (Post)

But the FAA decision doesn't mean this region won't continue to be a big player in this high growth field. While the federal centers will be important, states and private companies are significant players as well who can create unmanned system magnets of their own.

Camp Shelby, Miss., is a prime example. More than two weeks before the FAA announcement, a program was launched that backers said could attract companies interested in unmanned systems to South Mississippi.

The program involves the Open Source Software Institute, the military and Department of Homeland Security, and the focus is integrating unmanned vehicle systems and open source software. It's called the Open Source Unmanned Remote and Autonomous Vehicle Systems program, and it's designed to drive innovation and reduce costs in part by utilized open source software. The research program is based at Camp Shelby and administered in conjunction with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, DHS, Defense Acquisition University and non-government entities. (Post)

The FAA decision will not stop development of a test center in Shalimar, Fla., from moving forward. The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County has partnered with the University of Florida for the past four years to develop an unmanned system test facility just near UF's Research and Engineering Education Facility outside Eglin.

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the EDC, told the Northwest Florida Daily News that the FAA's decision not to locate a UAV test site in Florida has no bearing on the interest to develop the business sector at the local level. The next step is for the EDC and UF to sign a memorandum of understanding that will provide a defined framework for how to move the project forward.

And one of the biggest lures for making this region a big player in unmanned systems, aerial, land, maritime, you name it, may well end up being the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla.

IHMC came in second in a two-day robotic competition at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month, beaten only by a team from Japan owned by Google. Sixteen teams competed, and IHMC outscored every team from the United States, including Carnegie Mellon, MIT, NASA and other internationally known names. (Post)

So yes, it would have been nice getting an FAA site. But there are other opportunities.

Economic development
Speaking of opportunities, Florida is ranked No. 1 overall in U.S. aviation manufacturing attractiveness in a PricewaterhouseCoopers index, according to a release from the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The index ranked Florida's talent first, its industry ninth and cost six for an overall ranking of first in the nation in the index. Texas was ranked second and Washington State third. (Post)

That type of information is coming at a great time. The aerospace and defense industry will grow 5 percent globally in 2014, despite the budget pressures to the defense sector. That's according to a study from Deloitte.

"It is likely that 2014 will bring high single to double-digit levels of growth in the commercial aerospace sub-sector, as experienced in 2012 and expected in 2013, given the dramatic production forecasts of the aircraft manufacturers," said the study.

Commercial aerospace is a bright spot. The 2014 growth in the commercial aerospace industry is being driven by record-setting production levels, due to the accelerated replacement cycle of obsolete aircraft with newer fuel-efficient planes. The report predicts that by 2023, annual production levels in the commercial aerospace industry will increase by 25 percent. Aerospace and defense are pillars of the region's economy, and it will in the near future include an Airbus final assembly line. (Post)

The first of two dozen F-22 Raptors will begin arriving at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Monday. When all the aircraft arrive, the additional operational squadron will make the base the home of the largest contingent of Raptors in the world. The five jets coming Monday are the first of 24 that are being transferred from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. (Post)

-- The 2014 Armament Industry Days will be held March 11 and 12 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and will provide stakeholders in the weapons development community a better understanding of current threats, technologies, and possible solutions to meet warfighter needs. The event is hosted by the Program Executive Officer for Weapons and the Armament Systems Development Eglin Satellite Office. Activities will be conducted at the Secret Security level and will feature comments by Brig. Gen. Scott Jansson, Air Force PEO for Weapons. (Post)

Funding for the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport's control tower is still in limbo. But continued funding is looking good for the Federal Aviation Administration’s contract tower program, in which the airport participates. “Right now, it looks like things are moving forward,” said ECP Director Parker McClellan, noting language in both the Senate and House budget bills in support of the program, which costs about $150 million annually. (Post)

-- A private plane’s landing gear malfunctioned early in the week while touching down at Pensacola International Airport. The landing gear of the single-engine plane gave way during the landing and the plane skidded partway down the runway on its belly. The pilot, the only one on board, was not injured, but the airport’s north-south runway was closed for several hours. (Post)

The year's first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is now planned for no earlier than Monday. SpaceX had hoped to launch its Falcon 9 rocket around 5 p.m. Friday carrying a Thai commercial communications satellite. But the decision was made to conduct more rocket inspections. If necessary, launch attempts could also be made next Wednesday through Sunday. SpaceX plans to test its Raptor engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

LNG fuel tank: Lockheed Martin workers this month will put the finishing touches on the first 90-foot long, stainless steel liquefied natural gas fuel tank being built for an LNG-powered offshore supply vessels being built by New Orleans-based Harvey Gulf International Marine. (Post)

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