Rocket City–otherwise known as Huntsville, Alabama–is rightly proud of its high profile in the U.S. space industry. But it has much wider ambitions in the aerospace sector and is well on the way to fulfilling them, according to city officials exhibiting here at the Farnborough International airshow.
For instance, the U.S. Army’s aviation and missile command located in Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal has proved to be a magnet for attracting companies specializing in activities such as rotorcraft support and refurbishment, including Westwind Technologies and SES. In the case of SES, it is putting new avionics into Russian Mi-17 helicopters and training pilots before sending them to Afghanistan for use by NATO partners. It is also retrofitting Bell Helicopters for the Iraqi military.
Boeing has 3,000 employees in Huntsville and, while most of them are involved in space programs, about 300 have been involved in work on energy management systems and reduced-weight cabin floors for the 787 Dreamliner program. Airbus recent decision to open a final assembly line in nearby Mobile is likely to attract more tier-one and -two airliner suppliers to Alabama. PPG, which makes transparencies for the European airframer, is already established in Huntsville.
According to Huntsville chamber of commerce president Chip Cherry, aerospace firms are attracted in part to the city’s high concentration of qualified engineers. The state of Alabama offers full funding for industrial training to companies relocating there. As a so-called “right-to- work” state, in which employees cannot be compelled to join a union, Alabama is potentially attractive to companies seeking more flexible employment terms.