PARIS AIR SHOW: This year finds some aircraft makers at the forefront, others locked in struggle

Jun. 17--The final day of the Tour de France is traditionally a casual ride down the Champs Elysees, celebratory champagne in hand. Officials from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth might be tempted to re-enact the famous finish this week...


Jun. 17--The final day of the Tour de France is traditionally a casual ride down the Champs Elysees, celebratory champagne in hand.

Officials from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth might be tempted to re-enact the famous finish this week at the Paris Air Show.

Aviation industry experts say the manufacturer is flying high.

"They're the best-positioned military aviation contractor in the U.S. and actually in the world," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with aerospace and defense consulting firm Teal Group.

The huge F-35 and F-22 fighter jet projects are ramping up and look to be moneymakers for years to come, while the C-130J cargo plane remains a mainstay.

At the same time, hundreds of the older F-16 fighter jets remain to be built before the transition to the F-35 is complete.

"We're really excited about the portfolio of products that we have to showcase over in Paris, really unmatched by any other aerospace defense company in the world," said Rob Weiss, vice president of business development at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Lockheed isn't the only local organization heading to Paris on an upswing.

L-3 Communications Holdings Inc.'s Integrated Systems division in Greenville learned a few days ago that it had submitted the winning proposal, along with Boeing Co., Alenia North America and Global Military Aircraft Systems, to build the Joint Cargo Aircraft for the U.S. Army and Air Force.

That contract could eventually be worth as much as $6 billion.

Other local, well-known aircraft builders are dealing with struggles as well as successes.

Good news, bad news

Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.'s V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft seems to be in good shape as the machine heads to its first combat deployment in Iraq later this year.

But Bell's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter is behind schedule and over budget.

"The good news is that it's actually met all its key performance parameters, as they're called," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute. "The bad news is that it's costing about twice as much as the Army had planned."

Dallas-based Vought Aircraft is also having trouble with its work on Boeing's commercial 787 Dreamliner jet.

Vought recently fired the manager in charge of 787 work and is reportedly behind schedule in building the fuselage sections and shipping them to Boeing.

Both companies will try to polish their reputations this week.

The Dallas-Fort Worth companies and divisions at the air show represent a significant chunk of the local workforce and economy.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, for example, has about 14,300 employees in Fort Worth.

L-3 Integrated Systems has almost 5,000 employees in Greenville and more than 20,000 worldwide.

Vought has a little over 3,400 workers in the Dallas area, and Bell has about 7,000 in Fort Worth.

Those companies also account for billions of dollars in military and commercial aviation programs.

Lockheed Martin, for example, is the prime contractor for the $200 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, often referred to as the biggest defense contract ever.

Mission: schmooze

The show is a critical place to meet clients and schmooze potential customers, since nearly the entire aerospace industry gathers in one city for a few days. But no one expects any major new deals to be announced there.

Mr. Weiss said it takes so long to get from analyzing a customer's needs to signing on the dotted line that it's tough to synchronize announcements with the weeklong air show.

Still, Mr. Aboulafia said the show is "the most important aviation event in the world for product positioning and making customer contacts," particularly on the military side.

And analysts do expect some concrete news out of the show.

"Two of the more notable issues that need to be dealt with are right there in your back yard, getting Bell Helicopter back up and running on everything except tilt-rotors, and then Vought, getting their production problems sorted out," Mr. Aboulafia said.

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