Alabama aerospace industry gains velocity with new investment

Alabama aerospace industry gains velocity with new investment
Italian company Leonardo plans to build its T-100 training jet in Tuskegee if the US Air Force selects the jet as its next trainer. (Contributed)

Alabama’s aerospace and aviation industry is recording a landmark year, with a major haul of project announcements that bring the promise of international prominence to communities and workers across the state.

So far this year, aerospace companies have unveiled plans to invest at least $500 million and bring more than 2,200 jobs to Alabama in new facilities or expansions of existing operations.

That follows another solid year of growth for the industry in 2016, when project announcements involved $260 million in new investment and 2,000 additional jobs.

“Alabama has long been a major player in designing and manufacturing the most innovative, complex solutions to conquer skies and space, and we are continuing to shape the global industry today,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Companies around the world know our workforce has proven itself, time and time again, and that’s why they keep turning to this state to help solve modern industry challenges and achieve the latest groundbreaking work,” he added.

Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, left, and Gov. Kay Ivey get a look at Leonardo’s T-100 jet trainer at the 2017 Paris Air Show. (Contributed)

Leonardo in Tuskegee

One of this year’s major announcements came from global aerospace and defense firm Leonardo, which plans to build the T-100 jet trainer at Tuskegee’s Moton Field if it wins a U.S. Air Force contract for a next-generation training aircraft.

The project calls for the creation of 750 jobs over a 10-year period beginning in 2019.

The potential opportunity for Tuskegee and the surrounding area is huge, and it would add a new chapter to the region’s aviation legacy. Moton Field is where the legendary Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II.

Canfield led an Alabama delegation that last week met with Leonardo executives and toured a factory in Italy where the company manufactures jet trainer aircraft. The objective of the mission was to help advance preparations under way in Alabama for the development of the manufacturing facility at Moton Field.

Aerojet Rocketdyne officials join state and local leaders at a groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s new manufacturing facility in Huntsville. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

Rocket engines

Other key 2017 announcements include a pair of new rocket engine factories in Huntsville.

Blue Origin, the spaceflight company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a new $200 million, 342-job facility.

At the same time, Aerojet Rocketdyne is expanding its Huntsville operation with plans for 800 jobs and a new manufacturing plant for its ARI rocket engine and other parts.

The companies cite Alabama’s skilled workforce and industry prominence.

“Alabama is a great state for aerospace manufacturing and we are proud to produce America’s next rocket engine right here in the Rocket City,” Robert Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, said at the time of the company’s project announcement.

“The area’s skilled workforce and leading role in rocket propulsion development make Huntsville the ideal location for our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.”

Under a new alliance, Airbus and Bombardier will shift some C Series production to Alabama. (Bombardier)

Aerospace clusters

Elsewhere in the state, more industry breakthroughs are on the horizon.

GE recently selected Auburn University as one of eight universities in the world to participate in an innovative program focusing on 3-D printing research and education initiatives.

Nearby, the GE Aviation plant in Auburn is using additive manufacturing to mass produce fuel nozzle injectors. The company says the nozzle is the first complex jet engine component produced with 3-D printing technology.

And Airbus, which builds its A320 Family aircraft at its $600 million plant in Mobile, said last month that it will partner with Canadian manufacturer Bombardier to bring a new production line for Bombardier’s C Series passenger jets to Alabama.

Aerospace has been an important contributor to Alabama’s economy for decades, and in recent years the state has emerged as a top location for companies that are global leaders in the industry, said Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

“In addition to major industry clusters in Huntsville and Mobile, we now have aviation and aerospace-related companies providing advanced manufacturing and engineering jobs in communities throughout the state,” he said.

“One of Alabama’s great strengths in aerospace is the diversity of sectors that are represented here, including aircraft assembly, rocket propulsion, precision component manufacturing, missile defense and maintenance, repair and overhaul.”

Sewell said the latest aerospace projects planned for Alabama will further cement the state’s legacy in the sector.

“The recent investments and the continued growth and success of the aerospace industry have enhanced Alabama’s reputation as a state that can support the most advanced level of manufacturing,” he said.

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

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