With aerospace thermal processing being our annual focus in November, it seemed appropriate to look at what’s happening in the aerospace world. As a summary, a general comment would be that this segment of our market is doing well and is projected to continue to thrive for years to come. Commercial airlines are in the cycle that planes need to be replaced, and they want to do this with newer, more efficient models.

To confirm the future of the industry, in September, a Boeing Co. executive said that they continue to have a “very positive outlook on the commercial aerospace market” despite growing economic challenges. Much of the growth is being driven by low-cost carriers in emerging markets like China and India. Boeing indicated that fully 20% of their commercial plane demand is for models to replace older “gas-guzzlers.”

In the third quarter of this year, Delta Air Lines confirmed its plan to purchase 100 Boeing 737 jets as part of a fleet upgrade. Delivery is scheduled for 2013 to 2018. Also, American Airlines placed an order for 460 aircraft – the largest order in history. It will be divided between Airbus (260) and Boeing (200).

In Boeing news, the 787 Dreamliner was certified by U.S. and European Union regulators in late August. This means that the 787 complies with regulations and is safe to fly passengers. Through July, Boeing had 827 Dreamliners on order from dozens of carriers and leasing companies worldwide. The first delivery was taken in late September by All Nippon Airways in Japan. In October, Boeing and Allegheny Technologies extended their long-term titanium supply agreement through the end of 2018.

In Airbus news, Alcoa was recently awarded a multiyear supply agreement for aluminum sheet and plate products using Alcoa’s current and advanced-generation aluminum alloys. In June, Alcoa launched new proprietary alloys and advanced structural technologies designed to lower the weight, cost and maintenance of new aircraft as compared to the composite alternative. Airbus also signed a strategic collaboration with VSMPO-AVISMA, a major Airbus supplier since the 1990s, for the manufacture and supply of value-added titanium products. This would not be limited to the supply of raw material and forging but would potentially be extended to rough machining or pre-machining of titanium parts for a more vertically integrated supply chain.

United Technologies Corp. (UTC) rocked the aerospace world with its late-September announcement that it had purchased Goodrich Corp. for $16.5 billion. The acquisition resulted in a reorganization of UTC into the aerospace unit, which includes Goodrich along with Pratt & Whitney jet engines and Hamilton Sundstrand, and the UTC Climate, Controls and Security Systems. UTC believes that the aerospace division positions itself better for the demand surge resulting from Boeing and Airbus’ record production levels. UTC is keeping Sikorsky Helicopters separate because it is an aircraft maker, not a supplier like the other divisions.

The Pratt & Whitney division of UTC is transforming the aircraft industry with its new engine, which is quickly becoming the power plant of choice. Its PurePower geared turbofan engine is the result of more than a decade of research and an investment of at least $1 billion. The key attraction of the new engine is its 15% fuel savings, which is due to its unique operation as well as the weight reduction that accompanies its use. Because of the gearing, the fan can turn more slowly. As a result, it is larger, needs fewer blades, and moves more air. Also, its blades are wider. The slower speed results in quieter operation. The gearing allows the turbine to turn at a higher speed, which means it can be considerably shorter and lighter, resulting in engine weight reduction.

Smaller aircraft manufacturing is an area of anticipated slower growth per a recent analysis by Forecast International. They predict that stronger growth won’t begin until after 2012. Business jets and light sport aircraft are not included in the forecast. Turboprop production is expected to be flat for the next two years, with increases beginning in 2014.

With the advent of the Dreamliner and other composite-intensive aircraft, a relatively new field of composite repair will soon become important. Composite repair is very different than working with aluminum and other materials. With 827 composite aircraft currently on order, we predict that composite-repair technicians will be in demand in the coming months and years. SAE International is considering the management of the certification process for composite repair technicians. The FAA has documents outlining the necessary components of this training and certification. Hopefully, the industry will soon have a certification process to guarantee that FAA guidelines are met by new technicians entering the industry. IH