2020 What can we expect?

  It’s always hit and miss when it comes to trying to look into the future at what might
happen.
  Some things are known with a certainty. In 2020, the region will have the most
powerful rocket test since the Saturn era, and the first A220 jetliner built in Mobile will
be finished. It’s also a given that a new Navy training helicopter will be known, and
work will continue on the MRO campus at Pensacola International Airport.
  There are other events sure to happen during the year, and some are highlighted
below. But as anyone who follows the region’s aerospace activities will tell you, there
will be some things few saw coming.

Airbus
  Airbus will be celebrating another first in 2020 with the delivery of its first U.S.-made
A220 aircraft, as well as the completion of the new A220 final assembly line hangar
on the site.
  Airbus also will reach a milestone of delivering its 200th A320 series aircraft from
Mobile since production began.
  In 2020, Airbus will have doubled its footprint and workforce from the beginning of
2019.
  “Thinking ahead, I think it’s most important to note that once the A220 facility is fully
operational, Mobile will be the fourth largest city in the world for commercial aircraft
assembly, just behind Seattle, Hamburg, and Toulouse,” said Bill Sisson, the
president/CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
  “Next year, we fully expect to have a great deal of activity from suppliers and
service providers, setting up operations to support the FAL at Mobile Aeroplex at
Brookley. Currently, Mobile has a tremendous concentration of aerospace product
and parts manufacturing. In fact, the Mobile Bay area is almost three times more
concentrated than the national average. We fully expect that concentration to
continue to increase in 2020 and beyond as employment increases,” Sisson said.
  Neighboring Baldwin County also expects to benefit more from Airbus.
  “After visiting with Airbus’s leadership, in Montreal, this October, we anticipate the
addition of the A220 line to the Mobile facility will open new doors for a number of
suppliers to consider a location in the Baldwin-Mobile region,” said Lee Lawson,
president/CEO of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.
  Lawson said Segers Aero Corp. will soon begin a $4 million expansion of its
Fairhope facility, where the company employs 135 people. The addition to the facility
should be completed in 2020 and will house a new test cell, allowing Segers to test
engines on-site.
  “The South Alabama Mega Site continues to see a number of project opportunities
across various sectors, including aerospace and aviation. In 2020, the 3,000 acre
site, located in Bay Minette, Ala., will undergo $7 million in site work, including the
construction of an on-site rail bed, grading of 200 acres, and the creation a 1 million
square foot building pad. Removing a year’s worth of site work from a project’s
timeline, the site will offer prospective companies speed to market that is not
available at any other site of this size,” Lawson said.
  “In our conversations with worldwide aerospace executives, outlook continues to be
positive for the industry as a whole. We fully anticipate the global aerospace sector
to continue to thrive in the coming years, which will certainly create new opportunities
for the Mobile-Baldwin region. The future looks very bright for aerospace in Baldwin
County,” he said.

Education
  The first class of FlightPath9 students will be graduating and joining the Airbus
workforce through the Fast Track program, a 12- to 15-week program that readies
candidates to work on the assembly lines. The first class of 25 students will graduate
in May 2020.
  “In 2020, Flight Works Alabama should come online to help fill the employment
demand of the local aviation/aerospace sector,” said Sisson.
  “Spearheaded by the State of Alabama and Airbus, it will be a comprehensive
aerospace exhibition and education center, encouraging and inspiring future
workforce,” Sisson said.
  In 2020 four $2,500 ST Engineering scholarships will be awarded to Escambia
County high school students to use for aviation training. Meanwhile, near SSC, Phil
Bryant Aviation and Aerospace Workforce Academy will begin to take shape.

Space
  For Stennis Space Center – and NASA’s Artemis Program that will return humans,
including the first woman, to the Moon – 2020 is shaping up as a milestone year.
  The backbone of the Artemis Program plan to establish a sustainable exploration
presence on the Moon is NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The initial
three flights of the rocket are set: Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight of SLS and
the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts to deep space; Artemis II will be a
crewed mission around the Moon; Artemis III will return humans to the surface of the
Moon.
  The SLS core stage that will help launch the Artemis I mission is the largest rocket
stage ever built, measuring 212 feet tall and 27.6 feet in diameter. At launch, its four
RS-25 engines will fire simultaneously, generating 2 million-plus pounds of thrust.
  Prior to the SLS maiden flight, the Artemis I core stage will be transported from
NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to SSC. In 2020, the Artemis I core
stage will be installed on the B-2 Test Stand and run through a series of preflight
tests.
  The process, known as “Green Run” testing, will be the first time all of the stage
systems are operated in conjunction with one another. The testing will culminate with
a hot fire of the stage’s four RS-25 engines, just as during an actual launch.
  Following the testing the SLS stage will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center in
Florida. It will be joined with the rest of the SLS rocket and prepared for launch on
the Artemis I mission.
  In addition to conducting SLS core stage testing in 2020, NASA will resume testing
RS-25 engines during the year on the A-1 Test Stand.
  In April 2019, Stennis completed testing of engines to be used on the first four SLS
missions, but NASA has contracted with Aerojet Rocketdyne to produce new RS-25
engines for future SLS missions.
  In 2020, NASA will focus on developmental testing of the RS-25 engine, collecting
critical data for building the new engines. When assembled, the new RS-25 engines
also will be tested at SSC.
 
Airports   
  Two of the region’s airports responded to our request for predictions about 2020.
  “Overall I think the outlook for 2020 from an air service perspective is quite
positive. From our discussions here at Pensacola, the airlines are quite pleased with
both the load factors and yields they obtain from their operations, and they continue
to grow their product and service levels,” said Dan Flynn, PNS airport director.
  “With the national and regional economy performing well, individuals continue to
travel for both personal and business reasons. This coupled with the fact that more
individuals have discovered Northwest Florida, means the demands placed on our
respective facilities continues to grow as well.”
  “The biggest challenge I see is that to some extent, the pace of growth in air
services in our region is moving much faster than forecast in our respective Master
Plans, which places greater pressure on us to design, finance, and construct the
infrastructure needed to meet the growth. While we place trigger points in the Master
Plan that outline steps for a structured facility development process, we've in
essence blown through those trigger points, he said.
  “At the end of the day though, all of us have initiatives underway to ensure that we
continue to provide the facilities necessary to meet the air transportation needs of
our region,” said Flynn.
  “So overall, air service for the Northwest Florida region should continue to grow
into 2020 as the three airports in Northwest Florida take steps to improve levels of
service with our respective airline partners, and take steps to improve our facilities,”
said Flynn.
  The same optimism is seen in the commercial airport to the east, in Okaloosa
County.
  “For the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, 2020 is expected to bring more-of-the-
same, which equates to expanding markets and frequencies to existing markets to
include continued up-gauged aircraft with seat capacities at 187. We have grown 120
percent in passengers traffic over a three year period and as Dan alluded, VPS’s top
challenge will be delivering on high priority projects to meet todays and tomorrows
demands,” said Tracy Stage, airports director in Okaloosa County.
  “To date, we are well on track – just opened our 4th TSA Checkpoint and opening
350 additional parking spaces in the nick of time for the heavy holiday travel. The
economy is fantastic and the more our systems grow, the more jobs that are created
and higher the economic impact delivered. For VPS, that equates to $1.7B annually
per the Florida Department of Transportation 2018 Economic Impact Studies,” he
said.

- David Tortorano
December 2019




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