Aerospace: Onward and Upward - Business Facilities Magazine - Area Economic Development, Site Selection & Workforce Solutions

Innovations and advances in technology are poised to send aerospace industry growth into orbit.
Innovations and advances in technology are poised to send aerospace industry growth into orbit.

Aerospace: Onward and Upward

Aerospace: Onward and Upward - Business Facilities Magazine - Area Economic Development, Site Selection & Workforce Solutions

Innovations and advances in technology are poised to send aerospace industry growth into orbit.

The aerospace industry posted a sales increase last year, which was quite remarkable when you consider the economic turmoil across the globe. However, this points to the underlying strength of aerospace manufacturing, the strong demand for our products and the robustness of our technology,” says Marion Blakey, Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO.

“Total aerospace sales, according to our preliminary figures, will be slightly more than $214 billion—a new record for the sixth straight year, as well as the eighth year of growth in the last nine. This figure represents an increase of almost 4 percent over sales of $205.7 billion in 2008, when sales were impacted by the Boeing work stoppage and related trickle-down effects. We see nearly uniform growth across all sectors: Civil aircraft, military aircraft, missiles and space sales all improved, with the largest increase delivered by military aircraft.”

In fact, military aircraft generated an 8 percent increase in sales, and research and development in this sector increased more than 15 percent in 2009. Missile sales also showed a double-digit jump in sales with an 11 percent increase.

Meanwhile, civil aircraft sales showed moderate growth due to a downturn in the business jet market, which suffered more than most other aerospace sectors because of the global economic downturn. After an unprecedented five-year industry expansion, business jet sales dropped sharply in 2009. However, sales of large commercial jetliners—the largest segment of civil aircraft sales by value—had a relatively strong year, although most of the growth was due to recovery from the work stoppage at Boeing in 2008.

While sales and profits rose in the industry in 2009, employment fell to 641,000 from 657,100 workers in 2008. Despite this setback, the AIA says employment is faring better than most other industries at this time. Employment for all manufacturing firms fell by 3.2 percent and durable goods manufacturing employment fell by 3.8 percent, while aerospace employment increased by 1.5 percent for 2008. In addition, the average hourly wage in the aerospace industry rose by 6 percent for 2008, with the average worker taking home approximately $30 an hour. As such, industry leaders are predicting a bright future.

“The aerospace industry is a cornerstone of our economy, as well as a wellspring for much of the technology and innovation that gives the United States its global lead. It’s also an industry that’s been remarkably resilient in the face of economic adversity, and I’m confident that it will remain that way,” says Blakey. “Everyone knows that aerospace sales are cyclical, but whatever downturn may occur in the next 18 months is expected to be far less severe than other down-cycles. We believe the valley at the bottom of this cycle will be relatively shallow. Why? The pipeline is primed. Looking to the future, we’re well on our way to transforming our national airspace system with the deployment across the country of the backbone technology of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (known in the industry simply as NextGen) coupled with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. ADS-B has been rolled out in South Florida and the Gulf of Mexico with upcoming launches in Philadelphia, PA and Juneau, AK.”

According to Bill Chadwick, Director of Research for AIA, the NextGen system (basically a GPS satellite system for airline pilots and air traffic controllers) is the kind of innovation that could cause the airline industry to have a huge growth spurt.

“There’s certain innovations that come along in an industry that cause a bump in your growth curve and NextGen is one of those things,” says Chadwick. “An easy example is when we went from a prop plane to jet engines, and this is one of those kinds of things that will really open up the industry’s growth. It will allow airports to handle way more traffic and be more efficient and accurate, and the whole idea is that we will be able to get many more planes in the air. A lot of the airports are restricted by their congestion, and there’s no use adding new planes or routes because you can’t get a takeoff or landing slot. This system could really help with that congestion, so once NextGen gets implemented it’s really going to boost air travel.”

There also have been innovations in airplane design in the past year that are changing the industry drastically. “The Boeing Company will be delivering its first 787 Dreamliner commercial airliner next year, a real game-changer for the industry that will make air travel more efficient, passenger friendly and environmentally responsible,” says Blakey. “In fact, in anticipation of demand, Boeing is opening a plant in South Carolina, spreading out its manufacturing from its traditional hub in Seattle, WA. Together, NextGen and the Dreamliner and other new programs in this industry will keep aerospace manufacturing strong for years to come.”

Another way the 787 is a game changer is that it’s the first time in this industry that a company is building an airplane with large prefab sections coming from manufacturers around the world, according to Chadwick. Traditionally this industry has used a just-in-time manufacturing model much like the automotive industry, which requires all of its suppliers to be located in a cluster around the main manufacturing location. Boeing’s 787 is made with large component parts from places like Italy and Japan that are then assembled at its plants in the U.S. In November, Boeing acquired Vought Aircraft Industries, a company in South Carolina that builds a key structure for the 787 Dreamliner.

“The 787 Dreamliner will be the first new airplane of the 21st century. Integrating this facility and its talented employees into Boeing will strengthen the 787 program by enabling us to accelerate productivity and efficiency improvements as we move toward production ramp-up,” says Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “In addition, it will bolster our capability to develop and produce large composite structures that will contribute to the advancement of this critical technology.”

While Boeing’s new facility and new manufacturing processes are changing the industry, one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that when an aerospace company is looking for a new location, it’s number one priority is to have a qualified workforce immediately ready to jump-start production at the new facility. Here are some locations that are developing themselves as prime regions for aerospace, with a young, highly qualified workforce.

Columbus-Lowndes MS: GTR Global Aerospace Park

Utilizing the lessons learned in the creation of two TVA Certified Megasites, the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK has announced the creation of the GTR Global Industrial Aerospace Park. Located on a 2,500-acre site adjacent to the Golden Triangle Regional Airport (GTRA), the park is designed to complement growing aerospace and defense industries in Columbus-Lowndes County, MS. Access to GTRA’s 6,500-foot (expanding to 8,000 foot) runway is available. Mississippi State University’s aerospace engineering department accentuates the synergies for the creation of a world-renowned industrial aerospace park. East Mississippi Community College’s aerospace-experienced faculty provides outstanding workforce training.

The GTR Global Industrial Aerospace Park is designed to complement the area’s growing aerospace and defense industries that currently consist of composites, maintenance, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and geospatial technologies. The park is a lucrative spot for the design, development, manufacturing and maintenance of aerospace-related products. Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training base and one of the nation’s busiest airports, is located in Lowndes County.

The park is centrally located in Lowndes County and surrounded by four Mississippi counties and three Alabama counties. These county governments, along with the major city governments, economic and industrial development entities and educational institutions, have agreed that the GTR Global Industrial Aerospace Park is beneficial to the economic growth and well being of their communities. As a result, a Memorandum of Cooperation and Collaboration has been developed. The site also is part of the Aerospace Alliance recently formed by the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The Alliance’s mission is to promote the growth of the aerospace industry in the region.

The site is 2,500 acres, publicly controlled, adjacent to the Golden Triangle Regional Airport (GTRA), Mississippi’s third largest commercial airport.  Fifty percent of the site is the Crossroads Megasite, a TVA certified Megasite. The park’s infrastructure is shovel-ready. The Lowndes County Industrial Development Authority’s system has 1,000,000 gallons on water storage capacity in elevated storage tanks. Funding has been appropriated to construct a 1,000,000-gallon tank northeast of the aerospace park and run 16-foot water lines along the western boundary of the park. The industrial park is in the design stage of expanding its sewer treatment facilities, with construction is expected to begin in spring of 2010. Funding also has been appropriated for the installation of two pump stations and 35,000 feet of 12-inch sewer force main. Electricity is provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority and distributed by the 4-County Electric Power Association. Redundant power is available as both TVA and 4-County have state-of-the art delivery systems adjacent to the site. Atmos Energy also has lines adjacent to the site that can easily be extended into the site.

The GTRA runway is 6,500 feet, with funds appropriated to expand to 8,000 feet by 2011. The master plan includes a 5,000-foot crosswind runway that dissects the GTR Global Industrial Aerospace Park. GTRA and CAFB collaborate on many missions and projects, with CAFB providing backup air control for GTRA, and GTRA providing runway space to CAFB. An air cargo ramp is in place. The Kansas City Southern Railroad bounds the site to the south, providing access to five other railroads in Columbus which have connections to the East and West coasts, Mexico and Canada. Airport Road and Artesia Road connect the site to US Highways 82 and 45, providing access to Interstates 20, 55, 59 and 22 corridor. The Lowndes County Ports are located on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway with stevedoring services and intermodal loading and unloading capabilities.

The majority of the workforce for the aerospace park will come from the five Mississippi counties and three Alabama counties signing the Memorandum of Cooperation and Collaboration. The combined population of those counties is 232,377 with a total available workforce of 92,172. Well-trained air force retirees, 6,000 at last count, also are available for employment in the aerospace industry.

Mississippi: Home to The Aerospace Alliance

Mississippi is home to some of the most sophisticated aerospace-related manufacturing techniques and research capabilities in the world. And the sector continues to grow in the state as existing aerospace companies invest further in their Mississippi operations and prospective companies take note of the state’s workforce, research centers, infrastructure and prime location.

In October 2009, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, along with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, announced the launch of The Aerospace Alliance, a private-public organization that will establish the Gulf Coast and surrounding region as a world-class aerospace, space and aviation corridor. The Gulf Coast region already is home to some of the world’s most advanced aerospace installations, a number of key NASA facilities and numerous military installations critical to Department of Defense flight missions and training.

“This alliance will go far in promoting our region for what it is— one of the largest aerospace corridors in the world and a great place for companies in this sector to do business,” says Gov. Barbour. “The Gulf Coast states share geographic proximity, a long tradition of aerospace and aviation activities and a skilled and experienced workforce, and by joining together, we will be well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities to grow this sector in our region.”

Mississippi is at the heart of this thriving aerospace hub, offering well-integrated transportation system, skilled workforce and pro-business climate for technology-driven industries.

Recently, a number of aerospace and aviation companies have announced plans to expand their operations in Mississippi. These expansions demonstrate the ongoing commitment from the state to support the industry and help companies grow. After completion of a major expansion, which was announced February 2009, Alliant Techsystems, Inc. (ATK) will manufacture composite structures for next-generation commercial aircraft at its Iuka, MS, facility. With the expansion, the company’s workforce is expected to grow to a total of 800 employees in the next eight years.

Another aerospace company, Stark Aerospace in Columbus, MS, recently expanded into a new headquarters and manufacturing facility. The company, a division of Israel Aerospace Industries, Ltd., manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles. Stark has invested more than $30 million in the facility and already is expanding the building to accommodate another division.

In December 2009, GE Aviation announced plans to expand its operation in Batesville, MS GE’s plant produces composite components for the GEnx jet engine, which will power Boeing’s new 787 and 747-8 aircraft. With the expansion, GE Aviation will add 350 jobs.

“Our Batesville operation is involved in some of the most advanced manufacturing processes in the aviation industry,” says Jeanne Edwards, GE’s plant leader in Batesville. “Also, GE is very fortunate to have a strong order book for its new GEnx engine. Many of the technology advantages inherent in the GEnx engine are linked directly to the components produced in Batesville.”

“Mississippi is rapidly becoming known as a center for composite materials and technologies,” commented Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.”

General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Systems Division, manufacturer of advanced linear motors for Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching Systems (EMALS), broke ground late last year on its Phase IV, 50,000-square-foot expansion at its 72,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Shannon, MS The expansion, a $4.5 million capital investment by the company, will accommodate the plant’s role as the logistics supplier and depot-level support for the U.S. Navy’s Gerald R. Ford aircraft carriers.

Mississippi offers an abundant and skilled workforce known for a strong work ethic, low turnover rate and low absenteeism. With its network of community colleges, the state also is able to work with specific companies to design and implement customized job training programs to meet the unique needs of different industries.

Also home to leading research centers dedicated to geospatial technologies, aerospace and aviation, advanced materials and polymers and more, Mississippi provides the technology resources companies need to develop new products and new manufacturing capabilities. Companies like Eaton Aerospace, American Eurocopter, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Raytheon and others continue to thrive in the state.

For more information about opportunities for aerospace and aviation companies in Mississippi, visit

San Antonio, TX: Becoming an Aerospace Industrial Complex

During the last two decades, San Antonio, TX has dealt with the closures of two major military installations in Kelly and Brooks Air Force Bases, as a result of decisions made by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 1995 and 2005, respectively. Since then, both bases have become models for transforming into centers of aerospace and industrial economic development, which is a growing $3.8 billion dollar industry in the Alamo City.

Kelly has transformed into an aerospace-industrial complex and international logistics platform, now known as Port San Antonio. The site comprises a 1,900-acre master-planned hub of integrated air, rail, and highway logistics operations that link San Antonio to the international community. Nine million square-feet of industrial space at Port San Antonio is currently occupied by global aerospace leaders such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Standard Aero, Pratt & Whitney, Gore Design Completions and two divisions of Chromalloy. Both Boeing and Chromalloy announced major expansions in 2009.

In 2009, the Air Force selected Port San Antonio as the new home of its cyber command, known formally as the 24th Air Force Command. The 24th Air Force Command is slated to have up to a $1 billion budget, create up to 400 military and civilian jobs, and have an annual payroll of $40 million to $45 million once fully funded.

Brooks City-Base is still home to the School of Aerospace Medicine, an internationally recognized center for aerospace medical learning, consultation and aircrew health assessment. Since the announcement of the 2005 BRAC decision, the redevelopment goal is to transform the rest of the 1,300-acre former air force base into a world-class bioscience, academic, industrial and technical campus. More than $170 million worth of projects are planned for, under construction or newly completed at Brooks.

The San Antonio International Airport also is undergoing a major $600-million-plus expansion from a small, two terminal facility to a larger, all encompassing, three terminal complex with multiple parking garages. When completed in 2014, SAIA will have the capacity to cater to more than 10-million people annually. The expansion also includes major work on surrounding freeways and in-roads to ensure the infrastructure supporting air commerce is up to speed.

Other corporations like ST Aerospace have found it very profitable to make the Alamo City their home, not just for tax reasons but also because of the availability of qualified workers. As a major player in the airplane maintenance business, working on many numerous high profile clients’ planes and jets, STA is expanding its own facilities at the San Antonio Airport. They’re currently hiring nearly 300 qualified aircraft mechanics that have skills in the following areas: airframe/power plant, avionics, sheet metal, interiors, composites and quality control inspectors, and the pay range for these positions is $45,000-$50,000.

To help support the aerospace industry, local high schools and colleges are offering core-training programs that entice young students with the aid of free college courses and paid internships. These trade programs are run through the Alamo Area Academies. Shortly after graduating from high school, many of the students have already earned an associate’s degree. Since 2002, the academies have graduated more than 500 students, and 92 percent are either working in their field of training or continuing with higher education.

Wichita, Kansas: Site of Choice for Aviation

Wichita hosts the world’s best known aviation cluster, and is often referred to as the “Air Capital of the World.” Aircraft and aircraft components have been built with Wichita expertise and craftsmanship for nearly 90 years. Wichita offers one of the largest aerospace labor pools and supplier networks in the world. According to a Milken Institute study, Wichita has the highest concentration of aerospace manufacturing employment and skills in the nation. About 57 percent of Wichita metro area manufacturing employment (61,700) —or some 35,400 persons—is in aerospace products and parts.

The Wichita area hosts four OEMs (Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft). Wichita also is home to an Airbus Engineering Design Center. In 2008, Wichita companies delivered 59 percent of all general aviation aircraft built in the United States, and accounted for 46 percent of global general aviation deliveries. Located in Wichita is some of the most specialized equipment in the world for metal and composite material fabrication. Decades of aircraft production has built a network of more than 200 precision machine shops, tool and die shops, and other aerospace subcontract manufacturers. There are more than 40 Boeing-certified gold and silver suppliers within a 200-mile radius. Those leading edge suppliers include Spirit AeroSystems, the world’s largest independent producer of commercial aircraft structures. Wichita firms either directly manufacture, or provide critical components for, more than half of all general aviation, commercial and military aircraft. Industry-specific business advantages for aviation manufacturing include exemption of commercial aircraft and components from all sales taxes (including wet leases), liberal fly-away exemption, and no excise tax on jet fuel and aviation gas.

Wichita is the global center of composites expertise. South Central Kansas hosts a rapidly developing industrial cluster of firms in the field of advanced or “engineered” materials (composites) and polymers (advanced plastics and elastomers.) Wichita’s involvement with composite aircraft component design and fabrication goes back over 25 years to development of the all-composite Beechcraft Starship and Raytheon Premier business jets, Boeing-Wichita’s development of composite nacelles and struts, and Cessna’s development of proprietary composite technology.

Wichita’s expertise in advanced materials also has wide application outside of the aerospace industry. Advanced materials are being used in medical devices, automotive components, wind turbines, marine applications, construction materials, machinery, scientific instrumentation, and consumer products. The Wichita region has an expanding group of companies utilizing advanced materials. In addition to aerospace applications—products include military and consumer items, such as infantry armor, and even bicycle frames.

National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University was founded in 1985, and is the largest aerospace applied research and development academic institution in the nation. NIAR’s 120,000 square foot facility houses 15 advanced research and testing labs, including several wind tunnels. NIAR has full-time staff of over 200 researchers, including 60 at the PhD level. NIAR provides applied research into advanced materials and composites, 3-D prototyping, aerodynamics, aircraft ageing, aircraft icing, crash dynamics, and other fields critical to aircraft design and manufacturing. NIAR has been appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration as lead institution of the Center of Excellence in Composites & Advanced Materials (CECAM), which has been designated by NASA and the FAA to develop national standards for aircraft composites. NIAR accounts for more than 70 percent of FAA-related composite research spending.

In order to assure a steady supply of qualified workers for the regional aerospace industry, Sedgwick County Technical Education and Training Authority (SCTETA) is developing the $54-million, 222,000- square-foot National Center for Aviation Training. NCAT will be a world-class aviation manufacturing training center on the grounds of Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita. NCAT will have capacity to provide technical training for at least 1,300 students. NCAT facilities will allow realistic hands-on training on the latest aircraft manufacturing equipment, including a composites materials lab and an autoclave for heat-curing aviation plastics.

NCAT will also incorporate new facilities for WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research. NIAR will have NCAT facilities dedicated to CATIA training, composites research, non-destructive inspection, and advanced joining technologies. NCAT-NIAR partnership will allow NIAR to develop new materials and techniques in the lab, and then rapidly train workers in how to use them. This combination will expedite bringing new technologies to the factory production floor. Groundbreaking occurred in March 2008, and classes will begin in the spring of 2010.

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