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Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
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Aerospace Logs Good Business

Despite recent published reports of the possibility of defense cuts that could affect the Valley-area workforce, local aerospace companies are not rattled. In fact, these firms are currently reporting strong growth and sales due to an influx in commercial airplane orders and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While most of these manufacturers remain wary about how long this resurgence in spending will last, many of them are attempting to diversify their manufacturing capabilities, as to reduce their economic vulnerability. John Anderson, the director of aerospace and defense group California Manufacturing Technology Consulting, claims that in spite of the possibility of the military cuts, the local aerospace industry is currently in strong shape. “There are a couple of major things affecting companies right now. With the war and major programs being launched like the FA-22 and the F-35, orders are generally up,” Anderson said. “Commercial orders are getting ready to pick up and if defense orders go down, they’re hoping that commercial orders will go up and replace any defense loss.” Much speculation in particular, has been bandied about the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Strike Fighter Program, as the department is in the midst of issuing its quadrennial defense review. A good deal of the talk has surrounded possible budget cuts to the still-in-production F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-22 Raptor. Budget cuts to the $245 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have the potential to affect the local economy the most, as its center fuselage is currently being manufactured at Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Palmdale facility. Currently, the program which was begun last April, employs approximately 75 people. The company expects to have 200 people total, working on the F-35 as production ramps up in the coming years. The budget cuts in question would likely not impact the current job numbers, as the project is unlikely to shelved, but rather the future hires, industry officials believe. While the F-35 is seen as one as one of the company’s main engines for future growth, Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale facility has already been growing quite rapidly over the last year. “We’ve hired 400 people over the last year and we’re always looking for talented people,” Jim Hart, the spokesman for Northrop Grumman’s integrated systems sector, said. “When the F-35 program starts building up later in the decade, it will be one of the major employment drivers.” Over at Canoga Park-based Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the company’s mood is quite optimistic after the space shuttle Discovery, which included three engines designed and manufactured by Rocketdyne, landed successfully last week at Edwards Air Force Base. The Discovery’s recent launch was plagued by chunks of insulation flying off of its fuel tanks during its launch and the entire shuttle fleet has been grounded until the problems are further investigated. “Of course, people here were very concerned, you want these things to go as well as they possibly can,” John Mitchell, a Rocketdyne spokesman said. “We’re watching and waiting to see what NASA wants to do next. They’re in charge of the shuttle and the programs. We’ll have to see what happens.” In the interim, the company is optimistic about the potential of combining Pratt & Whitney’s technical expertise with that of Rocketdyne. The purchase of Rocketdyne by Pratt & Whitney’s parent company, United Technologies Corp., was completed on Aug. 2. “Ss far as Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is concerned, we’re looking forward to a vital and robust space program in the future and we’re certainly looking forward to the vision for space exploration,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great match of people who understand the way that the other one thinks. It’s kind of a dream team. We’re eager to move ahead and happy that we’ve consummated the whole deal,” While the Lockheed Martin Corporation might not be as outwardly optimistic as those of Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Dianne Knippel, the company’s spokesperson for its operations in Palmdale, reported that the operations are going steady in the Antelope Valley. “Over the next couple of years, we’re planning for a slow and steady growth,” Knippel said. “We haven’t seen a lot of growth over the last four to five years. Three or four years ago, we employed 3,900 people in Palmdale. Now we employ 4,200.” For Lockheed Martin’s local operations, the biggest obstacles on the horizon aren’t government cutbacks or the economy, but rather finding qualified aerospace engineers. “It’s not just a Lockheed Martin issue, it’s an aerospace issue. 50 percent of our workforce could retire. Think of the brain-drain that would be if they did,” Knippel said. “We have to continue to recruit people focused in math science and engineering. We’re all competing for the same top few minds.” Valencia-based EFS Aerospace has also been enjoying the benefits of the prolonged aerospace resurgence. The company does hydraulic and hydro-mechanical assembly for commercial and military aircraft and serves as both a first-tier supplier to companies like Lockheed Martin and the Boeing Company, as well as a manufacturing subcontractor. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the commercial aviation industry. The rates of orders for the Boeing 737s and the Boeing 777s are up tremendously and we haven’t seen any significant decline in military orders,” Brian Barrett, EFS’ president said. Over in North Hollywood, Whittaker Controls, Inc., a designer and manufacture of a broad range of fluid control devices and systems for both commercial and military aircraft, is also reporting robust growth and sales. “Whittaker is having a fantastic year. We’re going to break our sales records this year. We’re firing well on both the commercial airline and military segments of our business. There’s been a tremendous rebound in the industry, ever since 9/11,” Geoff Smith, Whittaker’s general manager, said. According to Smith, the company has been adding positions across all sectors in each year since 2000. The company currently has 225 employees in North Hollywood, up from 165 in 2000. However, Whittaker like many of the companies in the area understands the caprice of the aerospace market. Accordingly, Smith is working on diversification efforts in case the market goes flat. “The future of the company is in diversifying what we produce. We’re trying to broaden our scope out of just the aerospace routes,” Smith said. “We’ve been working on de-salinization efforts and broadening our skill sets. We’re re-inventing a lot of our core skills and technologies and branching out into new areas.”

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