Aerospace firms connect, compete and grow

Last month, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Georgia’s record year in international trade for the fourth time, both in exports and imports. The state exported $37.6 billion in goods, the highest annual total in its history. And for the second year in a row, aerospace-related products led the way as Georgia’s largest international export.

Aircraft, aircraft parts and aircraft engine exports grew to $7.85 billion in 2013, up from $6.71 billion in 2012. Georgia now ranks third in the U.S. for aircraft engines and parts, exporting $1.29 billion in 2013. Aircraft and aircraft parts totaled $6.56 billion in exports, ranking Georgia fourth among states in U.S.

Overall, 2013 marked seven straight years of aerospace export gains in Georgia, with an increase of 75 percent over the last five years. That outpaces the total U.S. growth in aerospace exports of 35 percent over the same period.

Our state’s aerospace companies are competing around the world, with major exports to Singapore, China, United Kingdom, Japan, Poland and Germany. Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace increased deliveries of business jets from 94 aircraft in 2012 to 144 in 2013, driven by strong sales of the new G650 to international customers. The future is looking just as bright: Orders of the G650 are stretching 45 months at current production rates.

Georgia’s aerostructures and parts manufacturers also contributed heavily to growth in exports. Triumph Aerostructures in Milledgeville is pursuing a business opportunity in Brazil. PCC Airfoils of Douglas, a manufacturer of precision aircraft turbine engine parts, reports most of its work is for Asia and European customers. Georgia is also poised to make gains in the new, “hot” aerospace global markets — namely, unmanned aircraft systems and the commercial space arena.

Three elements feeding this growth in aerospace are a strong university research base, an experienced and well-trained workforce, and our large aerospace community.

Overall, Georgia universities conduct approximately $500 million annually in engineering research, with about 10 percent focused in aerospace. More than 86,000 Georgians are employed directly in aerospace, with education and training available from five university engineering programs, a comprehensive aviation college and six technical colleges with focused aviation training programs.

Our community of more than 700 aerospace companies is building national and international networks to supply aerospace products in the global market. These factors, combined with Georgia’s business-friendly environment, make our state a perfect place for aerospace companies to connect, compete and grow.

R. Steve Justice is director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace.