Worldwide demand growing for Alabama-made aerospace products

Worldwide demand growing for Alabama-made aerospace products
Auburn's Archangel Systems makes sensor systems used in both fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft. Exports account for about 60 percent of its revenue. (Archangel Systems)

Aerospace companies across Alabama are seeing strong demand for their products around the world, with the value of the state’s aerospace exports topping $1.4 billion last year, an increase of more than 65 percent from the previous year.

Over the past five years, the same export category has grown 156 percent, as aerospace and aviation firms in Alabama communities find more customers abroad.

The numbers follow a national trend for aerospace exports, said Hilda Lockhart, director of the Office of International Trade at the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Based on reports from the Aerospace Industries Association, the U.S. aerospace and defense industry broke new records for international sales in 2016, with a total of $146 billion in exports.

“The aerospace industry – as does the automotive industry – values U.S.-made products because Federal Aviation Authority regulations ensure that they are ‘airworthy.’ Not all countries have the quality that the U.S. and Alabama products do,” Lockhart said.

“Also, there is a large demand for civil aircraft around the world. With the continued demand for parts, we should see the upward trend of our exports continue as well,” she added.

Overseas sales

There’s a similar outlook at Auburn’s Archangel Systems, which designs, develops and manufactures certified sensor systems used in both fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft.

Archangel Systems manufactures and tests its devices at its facility in Auburn. (Archangel Systems)

The company’s export sales account for about 60 percent of its revenue, and its products are especially popular among foreign militaries.

“There’s a big market for upgrades to existing military aircraft,” said Bill Dillard, Archangel’s director of sales and marketing. “Foreign military is where we’re having the best play, with good-sized fleets that get upgrades, 40 or 50 aircraft at a time.”

All of that activity also caught the eye of the U.S. military, he said, and the company’s first Department of Defense installations are expected later this year.

Dillard added that Archangel has launched strategies that will expand its civilian profile in 2017 and 2018. But the military business will be strong for many years.

Archangel’s flagship product is a sensor set called the Air Data Attitude Heading Reference System, which measures key indicators pilots need to fly safely. All of the other products in the company’s catalog are derivatives off that baseline.

“In the past year or two, we’ve seen the most business in Brazil, the United Kingdom and Indonesia, and Canada is going to come on strong in the next 12 months as well,” Dillard said. “Down the road, we’ll be targeting a lot of Europe. France is of high interest, as are Italy and Switzerland, and we’re also looking at business in India and Argentina.”

Dillard said the state’s assistance in navigating trade regulations has been an important part of Archangel’s export success.

“We’re a small company and we don’t have the staff to learn everything from scratch,” he said.

State trade officials also have been helpful in setting up connections with other aerospace companies, while state-led trade missions provide more opportunities for networking and business leads.

And it’s not just leads in the aerospace market, said Dillard, who was part of Alabama’s trade mission to Canada in June. The trade missions also provided an opportunity to connect with people from other industries in the state.

“There’s a lot of cross-pollination on a trade mission,” he said. “We’re talking to companies that don’t do aviation at all, but we’re finding ways to do business.”

Top markets

Alabama’s top market for aerospace exports last year was United Arab Emirates, where there was a 244 percent increase from the previous year.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration says there is unlimited potential for U.S. companies across all aerospace subsectors to do business in UAE, which is in the midst of major growth on multiple fronts in aviation and space programs.

Rounding out the top five markets for Alabama aerospace exports were:

  • France — 30 percent increase
  • Germany –31.6 percent increase
  • Canada — 215 percent increase
  • United Kingdom — 28.7 percent increase

The main products shipped to these five markets were civilian aircraft, engines and parts, Lockhart said.

Overall Alabama exports rose to a record level in 2016, surpassing $20 billion for the first time. Key gains were in transportation equipment, chemicals and paper products.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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