New frontiers for Georgia aerospace in 2016 (GA)

GEORGIA — The global aerospace industry continues steady growth with the U.S. continuing to the lead the way in international aerospace exports. While defense budgets are relatively flat, the commercial aviation market continues to grow, fueled by steady growth in airline traffic and increased demand for service in emerging markets.

Commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations in the U.S. are now growing quickly since the first FAA approvals in 2014, with over 2,000 companies granted approval for operations by the FAA at the end of 2015. The Commercial Space sector is buoyed by successes including Space X and Orbital Sciences resupply missions to the space station, reusable launchers, and increased use of low cost CubeSats.

The Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace continually monitors trends in the global aerospace industry and here are some of the new frontiers we see ahead for Georgia’s Aerospace Industry:

Commercial Space Is Here!

2015 saw the first launch and landing of space boosters by two different companies – Blue Origin and Space-X – heralding a new age of commercial space access. Although there were two launch incidents, within the year both commercial cargo providers successfully returned to fly to the International Space Station (ISS), demonstrating the resiliency of the new commercial space industry. The Space Foundation estimates that the combined commercial and government annual market exceeds $330 billion.

NASA deep space exploration continues, supported by a constellation of major companies, research universities and small entrepreneurial companies. This team is meeting the challenges of deep space, as demonstrated by the successful flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, which captured the imagination of the world. Georgia Tech is actively participating in missions to Mars and beyond, with GT researchers involved in the 2015 NASA announcement of the discovery of flowing water on Mars. A local space company, SpaceWorks, is actively working on suspended animation technology for future human treks to Mars and beyond.

In Georgia, the space sector is poised for explosive growth. Atlanta based Generation Orbit is developing an air-launch system specifically designed for small payloads, or nano-satellites and Terminal Velocity Aerospace is working on reentry systems for returning experiments from the ISS.

Georgia Tech and the Center for Space Technology and Research will launch the first of a series of small satellites in 2016. The proposed Spaceport Camden on the Georgia coast is now in the Environmental Impact Study phase of the FAA spaceport licensing process. This process should be complete sometime during 2016, which could to launches in the 2020 time frame. All these projects benefit from Georgia’s strong aviation industry base and workforce as we expand into advanced spacecraft and launch sectors.

Defense Continues To Be A Major Market For Georgia

Lockheed Martin C-130J Production Line in Marietta Defense budgets have plateaued, and this trend will continue through 2016. The U.S. DoD budget supports fewer major programs, making the competition more intense among defense contractors for each new program. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta is home to the only U.S. military cargo aircraft currently in production, the C-130J Hercules, and the assembly site for the center wing box of the U.S. newest fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. The U.S. Air Force recently announced a $5.3 Billion multi-year contract for 78 C-130J aircraft, which should keep the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta busy for many years.

With fewer new aircraft coming into production, current aircraft will stay in service for longer periods of time, which increases the importance of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO). Georgia is home to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, one of the three main U.S. Air Force maintenance centers, which provides support for key U.S. military aircraft.  The Warner Robins area also boasts a cluster of over 100 aerospace companies.

Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Operations Will Expand Further

UAS commercial operations are now entering the mainstream for business. Georgia’s preparation for this new market has paid dividends with over 60 local companies earning approval by FAA for UAS operation. Local companies such as Phoenix Air, CNN and Georgia UAS Services (a new start up) are offering commercial UAS services to a wide range of customers. The first adopters include agriculture, film making, photographic services, and infrastructure inspections where UAS have proven benefits, and can be applied in the friendliest conditions.

Building on the technology base in robotics at Georgia Tech, companies like Guided Systems Technologies have developed sensor and imaging technology to effectively help farmers increase crop yield, and they are also planning to use the technology to deliver live-saving goods to third world countries. Another technology company, AREA-I, represents an alternative example of UAS technology used in a beneficial commercial setting.

Their researchers have developed a twin jet-powered vehicle now being used by NASA to test advanced aerodynamic technologies in the quest to make manned aircraft more efficient and safe. Rather than using full-sized aircraft, airliners will now be able to test new innovations on a fully functional scale model – saving time, money and avoiding putting human pilots into potentially dangerous situations.

Nationwide, large corporations like Google, Amazon, UPS, and DHL are all looking at how to incorporate UAS technology into their own strategic business plans. The regulatory side of the sector is still lagging behind, but with new rules catching up in 2016, the market should begin a period of maturing and expansion.

Continued Steady Growth In the Commercial Aviation Market

Airline traffic worldwide continues to grow steadily each year, so even with a slight dip in growth projected for the next year, airline traffic will double over the next twenty years.

To support this growth and replacement of older aircraft, both Boeing and Airbus forecast the delivery of over 35,000 new airliners worldwide in the next twenty years representing over $5 trillion in value. This current global surge in demand for commercial aircraft is unprecedented, driving up the exports from domestic manufacturers in the engines, avionics, and composites industry.

With the U.S. as the leading exporter of aerospace products, this represents a major opportunity for Georgia’s aerospace industry. As an example, Georgia’s international aerospace exports have grown 75% in the last five years, better than the national average of 35%. Georgia will also benefit from the growth of MRO services for this enlarged airliner fleet at Delta Tech Ops in Atlanta, one of the largest MRO facilities in the nation, along with other major MRO facilities of HAECO and Bombardier in Macon.

The growth of the airliner fleet will also drive a need for people to operate and maintain those aircraft. To support the growing operations of the expanding airliner fleet during the next 20 years, Boeing predicts a requirement for 216,000 new pilots worldwide with 94,000 in Europe, 88,000 in North America, 55,000 in the Middle East, and 45,000 in Latin America.

The same trend exists for maintenance personnel with Boeing further predicting the need for 224,000 new technical personnel; 102,000 in Europe, 109,000 in North America, 62,000 in the Middle East, and 44,000 in Latin America. Such growth is a tremendous opportunity for Georgia’s students, but also a challenge to our education system to provide the training programs to meet the needs of both those students and our local aviation industry.

These sectors provide a great opportunity for the continued growth of the Georgia aerospace industry, already providing over $50 billion economic impact to our state each year. The Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace collaborates with companies and organizations on a wide range of projects to help the industry connect, compete and grow in the global aerospace market. Contact us to find out how we can help your company.

By Steve Justice
Director of the Center of Innovation for Aerospace Georgia Department of Economic Development

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