A surfeit of projects spanning the commercial, aerospace, defence and general aviation industries in the composites arena - and the promise of more demand in the coming years - has convinced diverse US firm AAR to invest manpower and money into rapidly expanding its composites manufacture capabilities.

AAR's composites business is part of the structures and systems unit, which is one of four company segments alongside aviation supply chain maintenance, repair and overhaul and aircraft sales and leasing. A facility in Clearwater, Florida, currently serves as the centre of composites work for the company, and uses a number of processes, including autoclave, RTM (resin transfer moulding) and compression moulding.

The facility is already involved in several recognisable programmes, supplying parts for Lockheed Martin F-22 structures, and for the defence manufacturer's Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft demonstrator. Configured floor panel structures are provided for Lockheed's Falcon re-entry space vehicle prototype.

 AAR - Business
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For Northrop Grumman's Guardian programme, AAR designs, certifies and manufactures an anti-missile defence housing. BAE Systems taps AAR for F-22 and MH-47 Helicopter countermeasure structures Sikorsky uses the firm for S-92 interiors and Cessna for CJ-3 & CJ-4 structures. On the commercial front, AAR provides flat panels for B/E Aerospace's Airbus A380 interiors.

Facing a "tremendous demand" at its Clearwater operation, AAR in February announced a long-term lease for a (8,910m3) (90,000ft3) facility at the former McClellan AFB in Sacramento, California. A state-of-the art shop fully equipped by the US Air Force in the early 1990s for composites manufacturing, McClellan was left vacant in 2001 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Some of the equipment at McClellan - including two of four autoclaves - has never been used, and will become the property of AAR as the land lease progresses. Operations are expected to begin in June after the facility has been reopened and re-energised.

The McClellan facility "gives us a chance to go after more programmes that we currently don't have the capability for", says AAR chairman and chief executive David Storch. "As time marches on, more aircraft components will be composites. We want to play in that market."

AAR president and chief operating officer Timothy Romenesko insists that jobs are not being lost in Florida or moved to California as a result of the McClellan lease. "Now we might get that plan started by shifting some work elsewhere from AAR into the facility, at least, [to get it] off and running. But once we get over the early stages, we do expect to attract new business."

The opportunities for new business at both Clearwater and McClellan span the entire industry. The need for composite structures for regional aircraft, business jets and helicopters, in particular, is significant, notes Storch.

Ensuring it can offer varied solutions, however, AAR recently acquired Summa Technology, which designs and manufactures precision-engineered machined parts, welded assemblies, and electrical and mechanical subassemblies and provides commercial machining in a wide range of specialty metals and alloy.

The Summa purchase was completed during the 2008 fiscal third quarter ended 29 February, a period when consolidated net income for the company grew 32% to a record $20.1 million on total revenue growth of 39% to $376.6 million.

"This was an exceptional quarter as we produced record sales and earnings, completed the acquisition of Summa Technology, generated $22 million of cash flow from operations and raised $250 million of new capital through a convertible note offering," says Storch.

The structures and systems unit was not alone in producing double-digit sales gains in the period aviation supply chain, MRO and aircraft sales and leasing also claim that distinction. Opportunities for growth are being explored in all four segments.

In many ways, however, AAR today, is "too big to be small and too small to be big", says Storch. All the more reason for the company to focus on expanding its markets, growing its footprints, and continuing to integrate solutions, he says.

Source: Flight International