Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paris exhibitors credit military market for stability

Posted by John McHale

One of the main questions exhibitors were asked at the Paris Air Show this past week was how were they doing in the midst of the economic downturn. Most credited their military systems designs with keeping them afloat.

"Military wins saved our business," Francois Hervieux, director of sales for Air Data in Quebec told me. Commercial wins have dried up due the economic downturn, but military business has been steady.

Nandu Balsaver of Laversab, a designer of avionics test equipment near Houston said it is not because commercial outfits do not have the money, -- they do. It is that they do not wish to part with it. "They are holding it tight to wait out the storm," he said

The military is the only thing that has been consistent, Balsaver added.

Most of the people I talked to who have designs in both markets said the same thing -- commercial business is drying up while the military is steady but not going gangbusters.

That is unless you are a defense prime, a maker of unmanned systems, or FLIR in Beaverton, Ore. David Strong, the vice president of marketing for FLIR said the company is doing better than ever.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently shifted funding in the DOD 2010 budget request from large platforms such as the F-22 to applications for Special Forces it played right into FLIR's core business, Strong said.

"Practically everything we do targets Special Forces from thermal weapon sights" to electro-optical gimbals on helicopters, Strong said.

The company is sitting quite pretty, having grown nearly 50 percent in the last two years, with their Government division making up more than half of their more than $1 billion in revenue.

Their government business -- which consist of not just military but civil and homeland security applications throughout the world -- is also the fastest growing part of their business, Strong noted.

Strong said he also sees the European market having fast growth potential, hence why they were here at the Paris Air Show.

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