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HESS Industries Ltd. at the Braintree Business Development Center in Mansfield - Photo Bob Perkoski
HESS Industries Ltd. at the Braintree Business Development Center in Mansfield - Photo Bob Perkoski | Show Photo

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success of ge aviation propels ohio aerospace industry to new heights

GE Aviation's GE90 Engine. Photo | Ben French
GE Aviation's GE90 Engine. Photo | Ben French
GE Aviation in Evendale just finished one of its most successful sales years ever as orders for its GE90 engine hit all-time highs. New airplane purchases from countries in the Middle East and Asia will create an increase in GE90 production each year through 2014. The GE90 powers the popular Boeing 777.

As the state’s largest exporter, with roughly half of its $17.6 billion in revenue coming from international sales in a $382 billion worldwide market, this is good news for GE and Ohio. But aerospace experts warn that we can’t grow complacent if we are to maintain our leadership position in this vital industry as competition heats up around the world.

Engine orders for the GE90 reached 400 last year at a list price of $11 billion, GE recently reported. This beats the previous record of 250 in 2007 by a wide margin, and highlights the growing demand for air transportation around the world, says Dale Carlson with Advanced Engine Systems at GE Aviation.

“The Boeing 777 and GE90 engine combination is growing in popularity with customers worldwide and is the best selling aircraft/engine combination in its class," says Bill Milhaem, General Manager of the GE90 Program. "Total orders for the engine family now exceed 2,000 engines with a backlog of 800 engines that will be delivered in the next four years.”

This commercial success will enable GE Aviation to maintain its Greater Cincinnati workforce of more than 7,400. This comes despite the loss of a highly publicized government contract for alternative engine development for the Joint Strike Fighter. GE was able to reassign roughly 800 engineers from that program into its thriving commercial engine program.

The GE90 engine was more than 20 years in the making due to the years of research that go into the development of complex aircraft engines. Such high-level innovation also requires collaboration among government research centers such as the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, statewide university research programs and key suppliers.

Budget crises and changing economic conditions could threaten some of these important partnerships, Carlson fears. In order to stay at the top of one of our most important export markets, Ohio must not lose sight of its vital aerospace assets, he says.

“We’re already thinking now about what propulsion will look like from 2030 to 2050,” says Carlson. “We’ve got to be ready for the next technology leap. It’s very difficult to make that investment in research without the help of public partnerships because the timelines are too long for the average private investor. We need to be working as a team to protect our research centers and maintain our position as number one in the world for propulsion.”

NASA Glenn Deputy Chief of Aeropropulsion Dennis Huff says that NASA will continue to provide research assistance to Ohio’s aerospace businesses, but in the future government and industry will have to share more of the cost of advanced research. “I think we’ll see more leveraging and sharing of resources. Because of tighter budgets, we’re going to have to be more collaborative with our research efforts than ever before.”

GE has already invested heavily in research facilities and programs throughout the state, including $3 million for the Ohio Center for Advanced Propulsion and Power at the Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati.

In Dayton, GE is now creating the Electrical Power Integrated Systems Research and Development Center (EPISCENTER) in conjunction with the University of Dayton Research Institute and a $7 million capital grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission.  EPISCENTER will open later this year.

Research facilities such as EPISCENTER will help to educate the next generation of engineers and support industry growth, says Mickey McCabe, Vice President of Research at the University of Dayton. “We’ve asked GE what they need in a future engineering workforce. We are prepared to roll out new curriculum, or even new degrees, if that would best meet their technology needs.”

GE has also invested $100 million in capital improvements at its Evendale headquarters, having received $120 million in tax credits from the State of Ohio and City of Evendale for that project. GE has further invested $90 million in its engine test and assembly operations in Peebles in Adams County.

These investments not only advance GE’s business, they also support more than 950 small businesses that supply the aviation industry around the state. Finally, they add jobs to the 100,000+ that already exist in the aerospace sector.

“The best way we can position ourselves for the future is to out-innovate the rest of the world,” says Carlson. “Don’t underestimate anybody. As soon as you do, the game’s up,” he says of competitors in countries such as China and Canada.

However, Ohio can also take advantage of growing aviation industries in other countries by facilitating partnerships.  For instance, last month the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) held a Canada-Ohio Aerospace Summit in Cleveland.

Canadian companies such as Bombardier in Montreal, a growing airplane manufacturer, could be an important source of new business for companies like GE or Ohio's parts suppliers, says Don Majcher, Vice President Technology and Innovation Partnerships at OAI.  The summit gave aerospace leaders from across Ohio and Canada a chance to meet and talk about ways to work together.

Majcher says that there is a bright future for aerospace here in Ohio if we maintain our leadership role. “The growth potential is staggering," he says. "This industry is going to double in size in the next 10 years.”

“We have the enviable position of being at the top in an industry with high-tech, high-paying jobs that any other part of the country would die to have. If we continue to lead, we will do well long into the future.”

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