Business jet market weathering slump
Business jet manufacturers are cautiously optimistic about the next 12 to 24 months, despite the fragile U.S. economy and the specter of the United States expanding the war on terrorism to include military strikes on Iraq.
According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, most airframe builders feel their backlogs of aircraft on firm order are large enough to ensure healthy, though significantly reduced, levels of production through the next year or so. Industry-wide, backlogs stand at 1,800 to 1,900 aircraft. Product debuts tend to stimulate market demand, with a number of new aircraft models introduced in the last 12 months. Several were unveiled at last month’s National Business Aviation Association’s 55th annual meeting and convention in Orlando, Fla. Boeing makes the BBJ and BBJ 2 business jets, based on the 737 airframe.
Uncertainty surrounds Pentagon’s UCAV plans
Some industry representatives are greeting interest among senior U.S. Air Force officials in fielding an unmanned bomber as a welcome new aircraft development opportunity, Aviation Week & Space Technology said, but other industry advocates of the X-45 unmanned combat aerial vehicle and FB-22 view the activity as a threat.
Consideration of a bomber effort is only one of several thrusts taking place at the Pentagon that could shake up existing unmanned aircraft plans. Another notion that could alter the current landscape is a proposal to combine Air Force and Navy UCAV efforts. Both suggestions haven’t progressed far, but could gather steam quickly in the coming months as the Pentagon finalizes its fiscal 2004 budget plans.
Eurofighter ready for dogfight with Lockheed
After two rocky decades of development by a four-nation consortium, the delta-winged Eurofighter is finally in production. And according to the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, its makers hope to dogfight for export sales with Lockheed Martin’s venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon—and even the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Trying to horn in on the lucrative fighter market is the Eurofighter consortium—BAE Systems of Great Britain, Alenia of Italy, and the Spanish and German arms of the multinational European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.
“We’ve cut metal on 80 aircraft,” said Erwin Obermeier, a top executive of the company that makes Germany’s share of the Eurofighter. At its small but sparkling factory in Manching, Germany plans to assemble 180 Eurofighters of the 620 that consortium members are to buy. Britain is to take 232, Italy 121 and Spain 87, with each nation assembling its own planes.
The first production models flew this spring. Even more encouraging for the Eurofighter’s makers was Austria’s July announcement that it would buy 24 planes for $1.75 billion—a contract that Lockheed had hoped the F-16 might win. The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine jet that can fly twice the speed of sound and, because of its delta wing, is highly agile.
TRW gets key telescope win
In what is likely to be the last spacecraft built under a name that dates to the early days of the U.S. space program, NASA selected TRW last month to build the Next-Generation Space Telescope. The contract is worth $824.8 million, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology.
TRW’s contract to build the James Webb Space Telescope—named after NASA’s second administrator—is the company’s second major recent award; its selection to build the nation’s next-generation weather satellites is worth a potential $4.5 billion. In both cases, TRW was chosen over Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, builders of the Hubble Space Telescope.
“This might be the last spacecraft competition TRW wins under its own name,” said Greg Davidson, who directs the company’s civil space programs. Northrop Grumman is acquiring TRW, subject to U.S government and European Union reviews. TRW heads a contracting team that includes Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo.
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