The aerospace industry is comprised of large manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and SpaceX as well as Tier 1 – 3 suppliers and distributors of aircraft engines, rotables, fasteners, avionics and expendable parts. In 2016 alone, the U.S. aerospace industry contributed $147 billion in exports to the U.S. economy, creating a positive trade balance of $90.5 billion — the largest of any U.S. manufacturing industry.
Aerospace manufacturing is driven not just by orders for new airplanes, but by refurbishment and repairs — an ongoing revenue stream that flows from both defense contracts and commercial airlines.
The aerospace industry can be divided into several sectors:
- Rotorcraft: encompasses military, emergency medical services, offshore oil and gas exploration, and law enforcement.
- Commercial Space: Turbine jet aircraft for commercial and commuter airlines and air cargo.
- General Aviation (GA): includes private and corporate jets, piston aircraft, turboprops, dirigibles, and experimental aircraft.
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): used in both military and civilian operations, like SpaceX.
- Supply Chain: provides parts for maintenance, repair, metalworking, avionics, testing equipment, and coatings.
Raw materials include high-strength aluminum, titanium, steel alloys, carbon-fiber materials and plastics. Typical machinery and equipment (M&E) includes large, multi-axis computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) flatbed machinery used for manufacturing parts; large autoclaves and pressure-testing equipment; multi-axis welding cells; robotics for material handling, assembly and packaging; large material-handling equipment (bridge cranes, specialized lifting attachments, transfer carts and yard lifts).