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2001: LOCAL INDUSTRY NATIONAL ROLLER COASTER AEROSPACE JOBS RIDE UPS, DOWNS WITH NASA, PENTAGON.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

PALMDALE - The Antelope Valley provided new evidence this year for the truism that aerospace is a boom-and-bust industry.

NASA canceled Lockheed Martin's $1.2 billion X-33 rocket plane. But seven months later, the company won a Pentagon contract to develop the joint strike fighter.

SR Technics dedicated its Palmdale jetliner modification plant in March, then laid off 15 percent of its work force in November.

``It's an up-and-down business,'' said David Myers, executive director of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance.

The Antelope Valley's economy and population have diversified over the past dozen years, so aerospace doesn't possess the all-pervasive role it had in the 1980s.

But its impact is still major: An estimated 30,000 Antelope Valley residents work in aerospace, with more than 20,000 working at Edwards Air Force Base, Air Force Plant 42, Mojave Airport or elsewhere locally, and the rest commuting outside the valley.

That 30,000 estimate means almost 30 percent of the valley's workers hold aerospace industry jobs. On the other hand, estimates are that nearly twice that many commute to the Greater Los Angeles Area.

Local aerospace employers added about 1,000 jobs over the past year, Myers said, and despite the uncertainty after the Sept. 11 attacks he expects them to add an additional 1,000 or 2,000 next year.

``What we're seeing is the commercial side is struggling and the military side is growing,'' Myers said. ``It's not that there's any difference in the trend. It's just been an interesting year as it relates to the peaks and valleys of aerospace.''

The year started with Swiss-owned SR Technics hiring 20 new workers every two weeks at the Palmdale plant it opened in 2000. Big enough to hold 10 aircraft and as many as 7,000 workers, officials said the plant gave the company an advantage in getting American Airlines' business in overhauling and modifying jetliners.

In March, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced it was shutting down work on Lockheed Martin's X-33 rocket plane, beset by a knotty technical problem and a bill of at least $400 million to fix it. The X-33 work stalled when a hydrogen fuel tank broke during testing in November 1999. In October, Lockheed Martin found out it had come out ahead in a five-year competition and beat Boeing for the contract to develop the joint strike fighter, a stealthy replacement for several military jets.

The fighter, if it goes into production, will be assembled in Texas, but parts work is expected to come to Palmdale. JSF partner Northrop Grumman also is expected to do parts work in Southern California.

Edwards is putting together a flight-test unit to test the development models of the new plane, to be called the F-35.

A week later, SR Technics announced that it was eliminating 75 of its more than 500 Palmdale jobs, citing the general slump in the air transportation industry after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the financial woes of its Swiss parent company.

The layoffs are the result of a complicated situation regarding the efforts to keep Swissair, the flagship company of SAirGroup, in operation. Swissair was suffering from a failed expansion strategy even before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Analysts expect SR Technics and other SAirGroup subsidiaries will be bought by another company and kept in operation.

The Antelope Valley may get hit with more bad news soon about space shuttle jobs.

Local leaders are trying to persuade NASA to continue to overhaul and modify the space shuttle fleet in Palmdale.

NASA shuttle program officials want the work to go to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, claiming there will be a significant cost savings.

It is not clear as to when a decision will be made on the modification work. NASA is the middle of a management change, and the space agency is continuing to grapple with how to proceed with the development of the International Space Station, which is $4.8 billion over budget.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

The Pentagon chose Lockheed Martin Corp. to build its high-tech, next- generation joint strike fighter jet. If it goes into production, parts work is expected to come to Palmdale. JSF partner Northrop Grumman also is expected to do parts work in Southern California.
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Title Annotation:Review; News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 31, 2001
Words:715
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