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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Intelligence Commercial Edition: News

JetBlue Signs Heavy Mx with Empire Aero

JetBlue Airways Corporation recently signed a heavy maintenance agreement with Empire Aero Center of Rome, NY. Empire Aero Center, in partnership with SR Technics, will provide JetBlue with Airbus A320 heavy maintenance support, C-checks, for up to 12 aircraft in 2007.

"We searched the world for an additional partner for this important maintenance work and found Empire Aero Center in our own backyard," said David Neeleman, CEO and founder of JetBlue Airways. "As a New York based and headquartered airline, we’re committed to supporting the flight needs and the economy of the Empire State. In addition to our existing service in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and soon, Newburgh, we look forward to a successful partnership with Empire Aero Center and SR Technics that will support the economy of upstate New York while maintaining JetBlue’s fleet as we continue to grow."

"This is just the beginning of a partnership that will undoubtedly precipitate our long-term goal to become a leading provider of airframe MRO services in North America," said Brian Olsen, president of Empire Aero Center.

New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the signing ceremony in Rome and said, "This new partnership between JetBlue and the Empire Aero Center will help new jobs take off and new opportunities take flight in the Mohawk Valley. Indeed, this is a great day for the community and New York - I am proud to have played a part in making this happen," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

It’s a Wrap: Killdeer’s Wiring Degradation Detection

In western North Dakota, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing (KMM) is combining a labor toward greater aircraft safety with a labor of community support. The company has developed a diagnotic/prognostic monitoring system for military and commercial aviation wiring. Dan Hedger, vice president of business development, explains that wrapping fiber optic strands around existing wiring harnesses, or embedding them on the harnesses, allows the strands to act as sensors that can indicate wiring failure mode problems such as those created by chafing or pinching.

Founded in 1987 by Dan’s parents, Don and Patricia Hedger, KMM has more than 100,000 square feet of facilities for its staff of engineers, technicians, administrators and skilled assemblers. The company has both ISO 9001-2000 and AS9100A certification, and the capability to perform multiple test methods on its products. Along with the wiring monitoring product, KMM as a contract manufacturer also makes aviation wiring harnesses, electrical circuit board assemblies, and ground support and other equipment. In doing so, around 300 jobs are created in several small, rural communities where the company owners were raised.

To date, KMM has created many prototypes since licensing the wiring monitoring technology from the U.S. Air Force in 1999. Hedger reports that KMM has worked with the FAA, United Airlines, the Office of Naval Research, NAVAIR and Boeing to develop and test this monitoring system. So far, it has flown on the CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter and the F/A-18/F Super Hornet fighter jet. Some wiring in these military aircraft already has protective jackets in current design; fiber optic strands embedded into these can make the otherwise "dumb jackets" into slightly "smarter jackets." The fiber optic strands are very small in both diameter and weight (on the order of a human hair). Many sizes, lengths and configurations have been tested, and KMM expects to work closely with customers on the desired lengths and configurations that fit individual applications.

Whether in military or commercial aircraft, Hedger explains, "The current, primary method for checking wiring is through visual inspection. Other diagnostic equipment requires the occurrence of electrical grounding, which can create dangerous electrical arcing and associated high-temperature plasma fields. Our system uses electromagnetic energy that is accessed through an interrogation node connected to the fiber optic sensor strands. The testing then relays comparative data to a processor that is about the size of a laptop computer."

Through R&D with the Wright Patterson Air Force Research Laboratory, Hedger notes that "we have scientifically proven and measured wire chafing." In KMM’s multiple prototypes of this system that have flown for several years, including on the F/A-18/F, some unexpected information has been gathered. "Wiring pinching was occurring every time a tight-tolerance door was slammed. By the time visual inspection showed the damage, our system had already indicated that something was happening to the wiring bundle." In his opinion, another unexpected reality "is that there is very little funding for safety development at this time. Fortunately, there is always funding for diagnostic/prognostic equipment that improves troubleshooting and saves labor hours and cost."

So far, system testing has only been conducted as a periodic ground support activity, at monthly intervals or whenever the aircraft is available. Hedger believes a continuously running interrogation of specific wiring with an onboard processor and cockpit alarm would be most effective for detecting chafing problems that could affect flight critical systems. "From a maintenance standpoint, this wiring monitoring system could help technicians pinpoint how far down a wire bundle a problem might be, and its exact location in proximity to other equipment that might be creating the problem. Then a reroute solution could be implemented.

He adds, "Of course, accessibility to the wiring is necessary to conduct a retrofit/modification to install the sensor on existing wire harnesses. After that, a baseline reading through the fiber optic strands can be taken. For subsequent readings during scheduled inspection, the sensors can be interrogated from a convenient location. In high vibration zones, such as engine wiring, or at leading edges, the sensor indications might call for more frequent visual inspection, but the tradeoff is prevention of a potentially dangerous wiring failure."

Over the course of Hedger’s experience with customers such as the U.S. Navy, Northrup Grumman, The Boeing Co., and Lockheed Martin, he estimates that wiring chafing can account for more than a third of all electrical failure mode problems. "Our system is prognostic in that an electrical fault does not need to occur in order for the fiber optic sensors to indicate that wire chafing is developing."

While the fiber optics and data processor aren’t expensive, the testing equipment can be on the order of $40,000 to conduct loss testing and optical time domain reflectometer testing on the fiber optics. KMM would consider turnkey services that might provide some cost offset. "We’re looking for interested parties in military or commercial aviation to help us identify applications engineering for this system. Best-commercial case scenario would be involvement in an FAA-oriented development/flight test program." — By Vicki McConnell

FedEx Delivers More Jobs to Mobile

Mobile, Ala. is becoming a growing hub for the aerospace industry that is not dependent on Northrop Grumman and EADS North America. Airbus is building an engineering center at Brookley Field Industrial Complex that will employ 150 engineers and now ST Mobile Aerospace Engineering Inc. signed a $470 million contract to convert 87 Boeing 757-200 passenger planes into air freighters for FedEx Express, a subsidiary of the Memphis-based transportation company. The deal is expected to bring 200 more jobs to Mobile, where MAE will perform the work in its existing MRO at Brookley Field. MAE announced that they would begin hiring immediately and that new workers will make wages comparable to other aircraft maintenance and sheet metal workers — between $14 and $18 an hour, depending on experience. The contract calls for MAE to convert the 87 planes during a seven-year period beginning this May. The company said it would establish three production lines, enabling it to turn out about one freighter each month. The conversions involve installation of a side cargo door, a reinforced cargo deck and loading system on the planes. This contract represent another step in a strong relationship between MAE and FedEx, which is among MAE’s biggest customers for MRO work. The cargo company also operates an air cargo distribution terminal at Brookley Field.

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