LONDON — Alabama’s business recruitment team wrapped up its mission at the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow last week with its sights on at least six growth project opportunities and fresh insights into the trends shaping the future of aerospace, aviation and defense.
While in London and at Farnborough, the Alabama working team engaged in well over a dozen scheduled appointments with industry executives, as well as numerous informal discussions with officials at aerospace companies starting Sunday and continuing into today.
The project possibilities unearthed during the show were split between new facilities and expansions at existing Alabama sites.
“We come away from Farnborough 2022 with a better understanding of the directions and opportunities that exist within the industry,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Because of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, aerospace companies are realizing they need redundancies in their supply chain — and that is something we can capitalize on.
“Another trend revolves around the technology advancement taking place in the industry, particularly in the realm of hypersonics, and there are solid growth opportunities for Alabama in that,” he added.
Secretary Canfield said talks during the Farnborough mission indicate that there is potential for Alabama to benefit from the massive investment that will take place within the aerospace and aviation sectors over the next five years.
Alabama communities represented at Farnborough are making moves to tap into the investment wave.
One of those is the Birmingham Region, whose strategic efforts to expand is aerospace sector received a boost from an announcement at Farnborough that defense contractor Kratos plans to expand its advanced concepts engineering center in the city. The $8.6 million investment will create 76 high-paying jobs.
“A major focus for Kratos is hypersonics. For us the question is: How can we make ourselves more appealing for that and expand on what Kratos is doing?” Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons said.
The Birmingham metro area, which has a population exceeding 1 million, is well suited for aero industry growth, he added. For starters, it has a large available workforce, plus upskilling training programs. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport can accommodate MRO facilities and aircraft mechanic training initiatives.
In addition, a teamwork effort to win Kratos has strengthened the partnership between Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham on the economic development front, Ammons said.
“We have to diversify the Birmingham Region’s economy. We have great opportunity in bio and life sciences, in automotive, and now in tech. But with the industry’s trajectory of growth and where it’s going, we need to have footprint in aerospace,” Ammons said.
Bob Smith, Commerce’s point man on aerospace, said several key themes emerged during talks at Farnborough 2022 that will be monitored closely by the Alabama team.
First, the industry’s long-standing focus on efficiency has been elevated by the pandemic, resulting in streamlining and consolidation in staffing. There’s also a strong merger trend as major companies combine and smaller suppliers become acquisition targets, Smith said.
In aviation, single-aisle passenger aircraft — like the A320 and A220 jets produced by Airbus in Mobile — continue to dominate orders. Smith said projections show that the global aircraft fleet will grow by 80% over the next 20 years, thanks to organic growth and a rush by operators to replace older planes with fuel-efficient new models.
In the defense sector, the attention is on hypersonic technologies and advanced materials, he added.
“We have Alabama companies well positioned in those segments, and we discussed how we could support their efforts to be competitive and compete for market share,” Smith said. “The need for university/company/workforce collaborations was brought up consistently and underscores the urgency of addressing shortages of necessary skill sets and numbers of needed workers.”
How can Alabama stay on top of the industry’s changing directions?
“Our best opportunity for capitalizing on the trends moving the aerospace industry is to do just what we did here in Farnborough — that is, keeping the relationships open and the dialogues taking place,” Secretary Canfield said.
“This allows us to better understand from the companies what their opportunities look like, as well as what their risks are. Then we can better articulate how we can be a partner to help them take advantage of those opportunities and reduce their risks.”
(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)