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RTI’s F-35 titanium shipments set to rise

Keywords: Tags  titanium, aerospace, RTI International Metals, Lockheed-Martin F-35, JSF, Joint Strike Fighter, Dawne S. Hickton, Lockheed-Martin Aeronautics mill products

LOS ANGELES — RTI International Metals Inc.’s titanium shipments to the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program should grow by about one-third this year, and the company’s top executive hopes to win additional work on the JSF program beyond its role as a supplier of mill product.

RTI’s shipments for the JSF program will increase to about 2 million pounds this year from 1.5 pounds in 2013, according to Dawne S. Hickton, vice chairwoman, president and chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based RTI, the primary supplier of titanium mill products for the F-35.

Hickton noted during a quarterly earnings conference call that although F-35 production won’t reach the number of aircraft earlier projected, and the plane continues to feel the impact of the federal budget sequestration, the JSF program has nevertheless won the required approvals in Washington for "going forward at this time." She cited a "pretty solid" build rate of 32 planes per year, with encouraging prospects for a future increase.

A spokesman for the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics unit of JSF prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas, noted that the build rate could grow from 32 planes last year to as many as 35 in 2014. Moreover, international orders will kick in next year, when 40 to 50 planes could be built, growing to more than 100 annually by the end of the decade.

Hickton said each F-35 currently accounts for a buy-weight of 20,000 to 35,000 pounds of titanium per airframe, depending on the version. While this is down significantly from the more than 100,000 pounds per plane estimated in the early days of the program (, May 31, 2007), she emphasized that RTI is starting to bid on JSF "opportunities" beyond those of supplying mill product.

While she didn’t disclose details, RTI has emphasized in the past that it’s looking for its fabrication and machining operations, such as RTI Claro in Montreal, to account for a larger role on the aircraft beyond its mill business.

The outlook for immediate growth this year on the F-35 appears greater than to Airbus SAS, where the company is the major North American source of titanium mill product to the European commercial transport builder. Hickton said RTI’s Airbus shipments this year will be similar to 2013 at or "slightly above" 5.5 million pounds. "The pickup there could be another year out," she said about Airbus shipments.

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