Aviation key for four states


Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi were among the U.S. states represented
with exhibition booths at the 52nd Paris Air Show. Others included Connecticut,
Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State.

The goal for each is the same. Grow the aerospace sector.

In addition to having their own presence, the four Gulf Coast states are also
represented by the non-profit Aerospace Alliance. Jointly funded by Alabama,
Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, the organization for the third time hosted a pre-
show reception on a yacht on the River Seine. It’s always held on the Sunday before
the trade show starts on Monday, and it’s not actually a part of the air show.

But it’s still hugely popular.

The Aerospace Alliance’s Melissa Medley said this year’s event had 435 people
registered to attend. About a third were officials representing Alabama, Florida,
Louisiana and Mississippi, but the remainder were representatives from aerospace
companies.

The reception does not have a program and is designed to let participants mingle. It
helps the four states connect with each other and to connect with businesses.

She said the idea is to let them all meet with no pressure before the show.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere. They get to spend two hours talking to a wide
variety of people,” she said. There’s a lot of mingling with people circulating widely.
She said she knows of one company that says it accomplishes a lot at the reception.

“This is their event, and it creates a lot of good will,” she said. “What’s great is,
people know what to expect. They are prepared to have a good time and to work it.”

She said the gathering is important because it’s the type of event that few states
undertake on their own. But the four member states have seen “the wisdom” of
sponsoring the event and using it to connect with companies.

The four states compete for projects, but also work together at times. The Aerospace
Alliance, in fact, was created during the time Mobile was hoping it would build Air
Force tankers. The group was formed in part to support that effort, but had a life well
beyond that initial focus.

All four states have significant aerospace and defense activities, and combined they
rank as the fourth largest aerospace region in the country, according to the
Aerospace Alliance.

Alabama has more than 300 companies engaged in the aerospace and defense
sector, according to the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association. It’s best known for
north Alabama’s Huntsville, home of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s
Marshall Space Flight Center. It continues to attract operations. Aerojet Rocketdyne
in April said it’s setting up an AR1 manufacturing plant there, consolidating work from
California and Virginia.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics from May
2016, Alabama had the nation’s highest concentration of aerospace engineers, and
the Huntsville MSA had the second highest concentration of jobs for aerospace
engineers. Southeast Alabama had the second highest concentration of aerospace
engineering jobs of non-metro areas.

Florida is the No. 2 state in the nation for aerospace, aviation and space
establishments, with more than 2,000 companies employing 82,000-plus workers.
The state is also No. 2 in the 2016 PwC Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness
Rankings.

In Florida, the best-known aerospace activity is the Space Coast, home to Kennedy
Space Center, Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base. Since the earliest days
of the space race this is the location where Americans ventured into space. It’s also
where private space companies have set up operations to leverage idled NASA
facilities.

Louisiana’s aerospace footprint may be best known for NASA’s Michoud Assembly
Facility in East New Orleans, but to the west there’s the 82,300 square-foot Bell
Helicopter assembly facility at Lafayette Regional Airport, which started making
helicopters in 2016.

AAR Corp. and Northrop Grumman operate major maintenance, repair and overhaul
facilities at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, and Aviation Exteriors
paints aircraft in Ne Iberia. Northwest Louisiana is home of Barksdale Air Force Base
and the 2nd Bomb Wing and its B-52H Stratofortress bombers.

According to LED, Louisiana has 6,200 aviation and aerospace jobs. The
Department of Transportation and Development counts nearly 60,000 and $1.8
billion in annual payroll directly supported by the 68 public-use airports in the state. It
also has 82 LED certified sites in 32 parishes.

Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Don Pierson apparently recognizes
the value of joint efforts.

“We will do a better job of engaging local and regional partners to attend the show
and in supplying funds for a better marketing presence in the future,” he said.

Mississippi has become a key player in the growing field of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Aurora Flight Sciences, Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems and Stark
Aerospace all build unmanned aerial systems in Mississippi. It’s also home to the
Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University in Starkville, which
in May 2015 was chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration to head a team of 16
universities as a center of excellence for UAS research. In 2016, the Department of
Homeland Security picked MSU as a base of operation for drone research, much of
the work will be in South Mississippi.

In addition, Pioneer Aerospace has made parachute systems in the state since the
1930s, and Eaton Aerospace makes commercial aircraft components. GE Aviation
makes jet engine components at two sites in the state.

- David Tortorano
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