From commercial airline fleet renewal through fighter procurement challenges to industry consolidation in the face of budget pressures, 2014 looks certain to be a pivotal year for aerospace and defense. Here are 12 areas to keep an eye on.

787

Boeing's 787 program was thrown into chaos a year ago by lithium-ion battery fires. With the subsequent grounding and a string of reliability issues, the aircraft's first full year of service was a troubled one. As 787-8 deliveries ramp up, the stretched -9 enters service and the -10 continues in development, 2014 will be a pivotal year.

SPACEX

SpaceX is hoping for a breakout year. After the Dec. 3 commercial debut of its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, the company plans 13 launches in 2014, including Boeing's first two 702SP all-electric satellites. It's an ambitious manifest, considering SpaceX has never had more than three launches in a single year. Also keep an eye on Virgin Galactic, which aims to begin suborbital passenger flights with its SpaceShipTwo.

JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER

Key milestones for Lockheed Martin's F-35 program will include carrier trials of the U.S. Navy's F-35C—delayed by an arrestor hook redesign—and looming deadlines for U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force initial operational capability. Progress is needed on the complex and essential automated logistics and mission-planning system, which is behind schedule.

FAA

In a major step toward civil unmanned aircraft systems, the FAA is to release the small UAS rule for public comment early in 2014. And a lot of comments are expected, particularly about privacy. The FAA hopes to publish the final rule by 2015, enabling civil and commercial use of UAS weighing up to 55 lb.

Orion

NASA's Orion capsule is scheduled to be sent 3,600 mi. into space in September on its first experimental flight. The test is to validate structural modeling for reentry of the capsule, which is designed to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. Europe, meanwhile, plans the long-anticipated launch of its first Galileo navigation satellites in 2014.

P&W/CFM

Pratt & Whitney's PW1000G and CFM's Leap-1A engines will have the eyes of hundreds of operators and suppliers on them as they fly in 2014 on the Airbus A320neo and GE's Boeing 747 testbed. The first flight of the Pratt-powered A320neo is scheduled for October. Will the new engines live up to their game-changing promise?

U.S. Budget

U.S. aviation and aerospace could enjoy some budget stability, thanks to a bipartisan mini-budget bargain struck in December. But the federal budget is set to continue its downward slide, and competition for scarce funding will grow more intense. From the A-10 to the James Webb Space Telescope and NextGen air traffic modernization, 2014 could be a make-or-break year.

Chinese Aircraft

China's aircraft industry is good at announcing plans, but less so on execution. The long-delayed Comac ARJ21 regional jet is now scheduled to be certified by the end of 2014, and assembly should begin on the first Comac C919 narrowbody airliner. Watch also for progress on new helicopters from Avicopter and assembly of Cessna business jets in China.

Fighters

Delays still dog major fighter procurements worldwide, and India has yet to finalize a contract for 126 Dassault Rafales, but Brazil sprang a surprise at end of 2013 when it picked Saab's JAS 39E Gripen over the Rafale and Boeing's Super Hornet. The Gripen E still has to pass a Swiss referendum, while Denmark evaluates the Eurofighter Typhoon, JAS 39E and Super Hornet as alternatives to the F-35.

Narrowbodies

Bombardier's CSeries made its first flight in September, and 2014 will be a crucial year of testing that will determine when the new narrowbody jet enters service. The program also needs to win more orders to gain market traction, against fierce opposition from Airbus and Boeing. Bombardier additionally has to certify its all-new Learjet 85 in 2014.

M&A

Merger and acquisition activity ground to a halt in the defense sector in 2013 as U.S. budget uncertainty paralyzed buyers and sellers alike. But pent-up demand continues to grow as companies look to position themselves for a post-Afghanistan defense market. With cash on hand, credit available and more insight into Pentagon priorities, odds favor an uptick in 2014.

AIRSHIPS

Will 2014 be the year of the airship? Despite the collapse of the U.S. Army's Long Endurance Multi Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) project, Northrop Grumman still plans to pursue a cargo-carrying airship project, and U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles has acquired the LEMV prototype as a step toward testing a large-scale prototype.