Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

F-35 gets big vote of confidence from United Kingdom


Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is flying high after the United Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to the sleek and stealthy fighter jet in the wake of recent terror attacks by the Islamic State.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s unqualified support for the F-35 program came in a defense budget report that said Britain will not only stick by its plans to buy 138 airplanes, but wants to accelerate its purchases by establishing an additional fighter squadron.

Cameron’s validation of the F-35 follows promises to join air strikes in Syria against terrorists following the deadly attacks in Paris earlier this month as well as the downing of an Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai desert by a bomb.

“This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing,” Cameron wrote in the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review. “From the rise of ISIL and the greater instability in the Middle East, to the crisis in the Ukraine … the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than five years ago.”

The news from a trusted ally, and the belief that increased terror threats will boost demand for its defense products, sent Lockheed Martin stock to a 52-week high before shares settled back a bit by week’s end.

Britain is one of eight countries that joined the United States to build and develop the F-35 joint strike fighter. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey are the other partners, with Israel, Japan and South Korea listed as foreign military customers. The $391.1 billion program makes the F-35 the most expensive U.S. military weapon system ever made.

Exactly how many airplanes will be included in Britain’s accelerated order was not detailed in the report, but the UK is on tap to purchase 14 F-35’s under the current contract. British Finance Minister George Osborne told Reuters they want to have 24 to deploy on its aircraft carriers by 2023. Additional airplanes will have to be added to their early orders if they hope to have planes based at home for defense and training, people familiar with the situation said.

Recently, Canadian voters elected a new Liberal Party government that ran on the promise of backing away from the F-35. So Lockheed Martin officials were understandably thrilled with more positive news from across the pond.

“They are a valued partner on the program, and today’s announcement highlights the UK’s continued commitment to the F-35,” Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the F-35 program in Fort Worth, told reporter Max Baker. “The F-35 will provide the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy with fifth generation, stealth capability that will revolutionize the UK’s combat air capability for decades to come.”

The Lockheed plant in west Fort Worth is undergoing a $1.2 billion reconfiguration to prepare for a big ramp-up in F-35 production. Production is expected to triple by 2017, to more than 100 planes a year, and Lockheed expects to add 1,000 workers to the assembly line.

On the Canadian front, new defense chief Harjit Sajjan cautioned that it’s too soon to count the F-35 out as part of their military plans for the future. Sajjan told Reuters that his agency is still determining the requirements for a competition it plans to hold to select a replacement aircraft for the CF-18 fighter jet.

Defense analysts appeared nonplussed about the recent news.

Washington defense analyst Loren Thompson had previously predicted that Canada, when all is said and done, may end up buying the F-35 because of its performance features.

“They may rethink their opposition to the plane,” Thompson said.

Richard Aboulafia, who works for the Teal Group, said he “didn’t take a lot away” from Cameron’s statements.

“It is good news and it is the first time they have accelerated something like that in years, but we’re still talking small numbers,” he said. “These are minor fluctuations in the broader program.” Max B. Baker

Qantas makes A380 service to Sydney daily

Qantas Airways’ giant A380 airplane will be making one more weekly visit to DFW Airport.

The Australian carrier announced that it will add a seventh weekly flight in April on its DFW-to-Sydney route, making the service daily.

The Aussie carrier has been flying six days a week since September 2014, when it began using the giant double-decker plane on the route. The A380, the largest commercial passenger jet in the world, can carry 484 passengers. And the DFW-to-Sydney route is currently the longest scheduled passenger flight in the world.

Before switching to the A380, Qantas flew a Boeing 747-400 on the route, which it launched in 2011.

North Hills Hospital lands nursing designation

North Hills Hospital said it achieved the Pathway to Excellence designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, identifying the North Richland Hills hospital as one of the best places to work for nurses.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the outcomes, achievements and outstanding nursing care that is delivered every day,” said Tracey Smithson, chief nursing officer at North Hills, in a statement.

To qualify, organizations must meet 12 practice standards essential to an ideal nursing practice environment and fully document the integration of those standards into its practices. Pathway designation is awarded only of the hospital’s nurses validate the data through a confidential survey.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko