Navigating Rough Waters in Aerospace
Following steady growth in commercial air travel and growing demand in the military aircraft market over previous years, it seemed like 2020 would be prosperous and promise continued growth for aerostructure manufacturers. But the Covid19 pandemic struck a heavy blow to the global aviation market.
After the outbreak, air travel was reduced almost immediately by 80 percent, with airlines forced to halt or reduce flights, cut down their operating fleets, and revise acquisition plans. The diminished demand for new commercial aircraft halted future acquisition plans and led to cancelations of existing orders. By the end of the year, optimistic projections predicted a full return to 2019 levels only by 2024, while a pessimistic outlook pushed the return to pre-pandemic levels of activity as far as 2028.
While the pandemic had an overwhelmingly negative effect on the global market, it affected different segments of the aerostructure industry to a differing degree. Wide-body commercial aircraft were the most affected market segment, while the development and production of military aircraft was the least affected. This includes the production of the F-35 and the development and production of helicopters such as the FLRAA/FARA vertical lift programs. Business aircraft sales were also less affected by the crisis, and continued to operate, even if at a reduced level, while air cargo saw a boon as airlines and cargo operators increased production to meet increasing demand.
The crisis affected the entire supply chain and hit first- and second-tier suppliers. However, manufacturers with more diversified portfolios were able to find opportunities even in the midst of the crisis. IAI is one of these companies and has proven capabilities in both military and commercial aerostructure design and production.
When the Covid -19 pandemic erupted, IAI was well-prepared as a certified Tier 1 partner for the supply of wings, conformal fuel tanks, fuselage, and empennage parts for the F-35, F-16, F-15s, and T-38 aircraft. "With the outbreak of the pandemic, we made immediate adjustments to comply with government and health regulations," said Jacob Rozmann, IAI VP and General Manager of the Aero-Structures Division. "We worked extra shifts to reduce the number of workers in the plant and avoid a plant shut-down. We were able to fulfill our commitments and continue on-time delivery of the highest quality hardware to customers. Throughout the year, we continually held communications with our customers and suppliers and kept them up to date.
“IAI implemented a dynamic approach that could retain the experienced workforce by retraining and adapting their skills to support the new programs.” Rozmann noted.
Changes in the market and a drive to reduce costs may open new opportunities for suppliers to join such programs. To keep its position at the cutting edge of technology, IAI invests in introducing new technologies and processes that meet the market demand for continual improvements and cost reduction. Despite the global crisis, IAI has presented strong financial results in its reports for Q3 2020.
"New vertical lift and helicopter programs offer aerospace suppliers more growth opportunities," said Batia Kahana, Director of Marketing and Business Development, IAI –Aero-Structures Division. "IAI is part of the Bell Textron V-280 Valor team and an elite supplier of Sikorsky for the UH-60 program. IAI is looking forward to taking part in future, new vertical lift and helicopter programs," she added.
As a versatile aerospace manufacturer, IAI has developed manufacturing capabilities and produces aerostructures and components for leading manufacturers of military aircraft and rotorcraft, commercial and business aircraft. Investing in innovative, cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and automation through risk-sharing, IAI solidified its position as a trusted, dependable long-term partner in leading aerospace programs worldwide.