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Aerospace: Soaring to New Heights

Record-breaking sales and a trend toward globalization are lifting the aerospace industry above the unstable economic environment.

Jun/Jul 08
Aerospace is a huge industry with diverse sectors, including civil and military aircraft, missiles and rockets, space vehicles and equipment, search and navigation instruments, and a variety of support products and services. The U.S. aerospace industry is on track to register its fifth consecutive year of record growth in 2008, according to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). The AIA is projecting that sales will punch through the $200 billion mark for the first time, reaching around $211 billion for the year. This is on top of 2007's robust sales of $199.3 billion, according to Bill Chadwick, AIA's research director. Of these sales, 48.6 percent were exported, compared with 46.5 percent in 2006.

One of the most important statistical categories tracked by the AIA is foreign-trade balance. Aerospace contributed a positive net surplus of $60.4 billion to the U.S. economy in 2007 - $96.9 billion in exports versus $36.5 billion in imports. The trade balance was up from more than $50 billion in 2006. "Another year with such strength in the global marketplace underscores our strong international track record," says Marion Blakey, AIA president and CEO. "It also shows our importance to the American economy, as $60.4 billion represents the largest single positive trade balance of any U.S. manufacturing sector."

One of the main trends in the industry is globalization. Manufacturers are setting up overseas operations, enlisting international firms and even competitors in joint ventures and consortiums.

Aerospace employment is on the upswing at 645.6 thousand in 2007 compared with 630 thousand in 2006. The top five states with the biggest concentrations of aerospace employment are California, Washington, Texas, Kansas, and Arizona.

The Civil Aircraft Market
The broad-based civil aircraft market includes general aviation aircraft such as business jets, piston airplanes, and turboprops. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) says general aviation manufacturers are finding a business bonanza, with billings reaching a record high of $21.9 billion in 2007, a 16.5 percent increase over 2006.

Around 60 percent of total U.S. civil aircraft sales are for large commercial jet liners - and that means Boeing, a dominant force in the market. Boeing flew high in 2007 with 441 airplanes delivered and a record 1,423 orders booked for the year. The centerpiece of the company's commercial airplanes is the new 787 Dreamliner. Boeing says it's the fastest-selling new airplane in the company's history, with an order backlog approaching 900. The schedule currently calls for delivery of the first 787 to Japanese carrier ANA in third quarter of 2009.

The general aviation business is demonstrating a strong international flavor, in common with aerospace as a whole. GAMA says markets outside of North America accounted for nearly half of business jet manufacturer shipments in 2007. Putting it another way, of all general aviation airplanes manufactured in the United States in 2007, exports accounted for 34.8 percent of the total.

Business jets are fueling market growth with a total of 1,138 shipments in 2007. One of the major players in the business jet market is General Dynamics subsidiary Gulfstream Aerospace, based in Savannah, Georgia. Gulfstream recently introduced its all-new business jet, the G650, featuring an ultra-large cabin, ultra-long range, and a host of technological advances. The first flight of the aircraft is scheduled for the second half of 2009, with customer deliveries beginning in 2012. Gulfstream bills the G650 as the fastest business aircraft in the sky and says it can climb to a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet, avoiding airline traffic congestion and bad weather.

On another front, Honda Aircraft Company has established its world headquarters at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, where it will produce the HondaJet, a new advanced light jet. First delivery is scheduled for 2010 and Honda says it already has is excess of 100 orders.

Military and Space Markets
The military sector of the aerospace market also reflects globalization with the international development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, heading up an extensive team of U.S. and overseas industrial partners and suppliers.

The initial JointStrike aircraft is named the F35A. It will be accompanied by a companion aircraft, the F35B, which will provide additional versatility, taking off within 500 feet rather than requiring a long runway and being able to land vertically with the full load of weapons and fuel. Lockheed spokesperson John Smith says both planes are either in test flights or the manufacturing flow. The first two F35As are scheduled for delivery to the United States in early 2010. Smith adds that the F35A and F35B represent the most advanced jet fighter aircraft in the world as the only fifth-generation jets.

The military sector also is experiencing growing demand for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). A Teal Group market study predicts the UAV market will grow from $3.4 billion annually in 2008 to $7.3 billion in 2017. The total market over those years could reach $55 billion, according to Teal Group spokesperson Steve Rozga.

One of the primary operators in the space sector is United Space Alliance (USA), a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The Alliance is NASA's prime space shuttle contractor, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the space shuttle system excluding the propulsion elements. Those are managed by Marshall Space Flight Center.

USA is headquartered in Houston with facilities in the Kennedy Space Center and Huntsville, Alabama. The organization employs 10,000 workers and has 2,068 suppliers spread across 44 states. It is playing an active role in completing the building of the International Space Station (ISS), with 10 of the remaining 11 space shuttle flights scheduled for that destination. The space shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010.

For its next-generation spacecraft to carry humans to the moon and other destinations, NASA says it has selected Lockheed Martin to build the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Orion will ride into low Earth orbit atop an upper stage built by Boeing, as part of the Ares I crew launch vehicle. The Orion will then rendezvous with the Altair lunar lander and the Earth departure stage, or EDS, that will send the two docked spacecraft to lunar orbit.

The Altair and the EDS are to be lofted into low Earth orbit by the Ares V cargo launch vehicle. When built, the Ares V will be the world's most powerful rocket, capable of sending 75 metric tons for trans-lunar injection - almost double the capability of the Saturn V, according to NASA. Both Ares rockets will have reusable first-stage solid rocket boosters built by ATK and second stage J-2X rocket engines built by Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne.

NASA also says it has also funded Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Space Act agreements with two companies - Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation and California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) - to develop capabilities and systems to demonstrate the delivery of cargo to the International Space Station. The COTS program is funded at a level of $500 million through 2010 for cargo demonstrations to the ISS.

In New Mexico, construction is underway at the nation's first "spaceport," a facility for developing and launching commercial spacecraft. Spaceport America, located outside Las Cruces, will include hangars, terminal facilities, launching pads, and visitors' centers. Several companies, including Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, are part of the complex.

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