PNAA Conference Day 1: Aerospace Clusters

  • Feb. 9, 2016: Today is the first of three days of conference meetings organized by PNAAthe Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA), in Lynnwood (WA). We’re providing live reporting throughout the three days.

Aerospace clusters are evolving throughout the world, said Kevin Michael, vice president of ICF International.

California is on the decline. Two new clusters on the rise are Mexico and the Southeastern US. The Netherlands and Singapore are successful, long-term clusters.

California was the premier aerospace cluster for decades, but its demise began when Lockheed chose Georgia as the location to build the C-130. The founding of Airbus was not good news for SoCal, and neither was the end of the Cold War. The acquisition of McDonnell Douglas by Boeing in 1997 further precipitated the decline of SoCal.

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C-17: the end of an era

Dec. 1,2015: The last C-17 flew off the Boeing production line in Long Beach (CA) last week, ending aircraft

The final C-17 before taking off from the Long Beach (CA) production plant Boeing acquired in the McDonnell Douglas merger of 1997. MDC designed the C-17. Los Angeles Times photo.

production at the former McDonnell Douglas plant that began delivering Douglas DC-8s at the start of the jet age.

It’s the end of an era that lasted six decades.

Prior to producing the DC-8 at Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Co. built its long line of piston airliners at the Santa Monica (CA) Airport.

The DC-8 was followed by the DC-9, DC-10, the DC-9 Super 80 series, the MD-11, the MD-90 and the final commercial airliner at Long Beach, the MD-95/Boeing 717. The C-17 was the only military aircraft built here.

Here’s a photo array dedicated to this storied history.

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Northrop wins, Boeing/Lockheed lose bomber contract

Oct. 27, 2015: Northrop Grumman, builder of the B-2 bomber in the USAF inventory, was awarded the contract to build the next generation long-range bomber, which is yet to be named. For the moment, we’ll call it the “B-3.” For now it’s official name is the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB).

The Seattle Times has this story.

This is a big blow to Boeing, whose declining defense business was already in trouble from defense cutbacks and previous contract losses. The contract is worth $80bn.

Boeing’s strategy in acquiring McDonnell Douglas Corp back in 1997 was to even the revenue stream between commercial and military, in which Boeing then had a small portion and MDC was predominately military. Boeing was a sub-contractor to Northrop on the B-2, gaining a lot of its composite experience there which ultimately benefited development of the 787.

Unless Boeing finds grounds to challenge the contract award, prevails and wins a second competition, its Defense unit will continue to shrink.

Goldman Sachs, as with many other investment banks, called this a big win for Northrop.

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Embraer faces new challenge from MRJ90

Part 2

Paulo Cesar, president and CEO of Embraer’s commercial aviation unit. Photo via Google images.

Sept. 10, 2015, © Leeham Co. Embraer is the dominant producer of commercial aircraft in the 70-125 seat sector, having overtaken Bombardier in the last decade following the development and 2004 introduction of the E-Jet. Bombardier’s CRJ family struggles, hampered by a sales force that neglected it and the Q400 turbo-prop as attention focused on the new CSeries.

Embraer in recent years faced new competition. However, the early entries—AVIC’s ARJ21 and the Sukhoi Superjet SJ100, both in the 70-90 seat sector, proved little to worry about. The ARJ21, now eight years late, proved to be a technological and industrial dud, a project that was more about learning how to design and build an airplane than producing a commercially viable one.

The SSJ100, while winning favorable reviews, was and continues to be plagued by a poor production system and in recent years the political overhang of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war in Ukraine.

Shortly, though, the E-190 faces a new challenger: the Mitsubishi MRJ90. It’s two years late, now forecasting an entry-into-service of 2017—just one year ahead of the redesigned E-190, the E-190 E2. The MRJ90, a 90-seat clean-sheet design, is Japan’s first commercial airliner since the NAMC YS-11 turbo-prop of the 1960s. The MRJ90’s first flight is scheduled for the second half of next month. Full flight testing moves to Washington State in the first quarter next year.

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Odds and Ends: KC-390 first flight; A400M; AirAsia 8501; Bombardier credibility

KC-390 first flight: Embraer’s largest airplane ever built, the KC-390 tanker/transport, made its first flight today.

We profiled the airplane last October following our visit to Brazil.

The airplane fulfills needs for Brazil’s vast geography to supply its population and to serve as a military platform. It also gives EMB valuable experience in developing large aircraft. The cross-section is about the size of a Boeing 767. It’s slightly larger than a Lockheed Martin C-130 but smaller than the Airbus A400M.

Speaking of A400M: Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group, had some comments about this problem child at Airbus in his annual press conference dinner in Paris. Aviation Week reports.

AirAsia 8501: Reuters reported last week two unidentified sources said the captain was out of his seat cutting power to two computers, working a flaw, when AirAsia flight 8501 went out of control and crashed into the Java Sea. Now there’s a report disputing this.

Bombardier credibility: Ahead of the Feb. 12 year end 2014 earnings call, Bloomberg News has a story that focuses on Bombardier’s credibility issues with investors. CEO Pierre Beaudoin has his work cut out for him on the call to reassure investors.

Airbus A400M; how good and how late?

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By Bjorn Fehrm


01 Feb 2015: Six years ago Tom Enders, then-CEO for Airbus (when the parent was named EADS), threatened to stop the A400M project. He then played hardball to get eight European states to understand they had to pay 5bn Euro more or get no plane. Airbus existence could be threatened by a project that its management when the program was launch (CEO Jean Pierson) did not want but that the politicians convinced Pierson’s successor, Noel Forgeard, to do.


Airbus A400M Atlas landing at Farnborough Airshow. Source: Wikipedia.

Now Tom Enders is CEO of Airbus Group and has to apologize to the same governments that he struck a deal with then to finish the project if Airbus got the money and a consent to three years of delays. Now Airbus can no longer fulfill the terms and the airplane is still falling short of performance specifications. Deliveries have been delayed further and promised capabilities will be delivered later than said. Like then, heads are rolling at Airbus and tighter control is being applied.


  • The A400M rests between the Lockheed Martin C-130 and the Boeing C-17.
  • European countries need an airlifter for military and humanitarian missions.
  • Dirt airstrip capability is needed.
  • The program will take longer to complete and this time Airbus has to pay.

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