This Company is Revolutionizing Aerospace

Composites are the most important materials to be adapted for aerospace since the use of aluminum in the 1920s. The use of these miracle materials is sweeping all sectors of aerospace.

Broadly defined, composite materials represent the combination of inherently dissimilar materials, usually involving carbon, to form a strengthened combination. The idea behind composites is as old Biblical times, when masons mixed straw with mud to form stronger bricks – except with today’s space age materials, the resulting composite yields truly remarkable results in weight reduction, strength and flexibility.

Worldwide aerospace composites manufacturing is a roughly $10 billion-a-year industry. InterFlight Global, an aerospace consulting firm based in Miami, says that the aerospace composite market is on track to reach $50 billion a year by 2018.

New composite aircraft, such as The Boeing Company’s (NYSE: BA) Dreamliner 787, are revolutionizing the aerospace industry. The 787 is a game-changing aircraft that exemplifies this watershed in the industry. Boeing has bet the ranch on this high-tech aircraft; the Dreamliner’s maiden flight, originally scheduled for August 2007, finally occurred last December, and the 787 has racked up a record amount of orders for any new plane in history.

Stamford, Conn.-based Hexcel Corp. (NYSE: HXL) is the largest U.S. producer of carbon fiber and by far the number one producer of aerospace composite materials. The $1.5 billion company is Boeing’s chief composite supplier, and is the surest investment play on the growing demand for composites in aerospace.

Composites offer significant performance benefits, including reduced overall weight, improved fuel burn and better resistance against corrosion and damage. Composites help reduce pollution through greater fuel economy, an important consideration in light of increasingly strict environmental regulations imposed on aviation. They also allow greater aircraft speed, opening up new long-range routes for passengers – and new competitive opportunities for hard-pressed airlines.

That’s why aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing has embraced these futuristic materials for its commercial aircraft – and why its competitors, such as European-based Airbus, are being forced to follow suit.

And Hexcel continues to ride the composite boom. After Monday’s close, the company posted better-than-expected results for the first quarter. Excluding certain items, Hexcel said earnings in the most recent three-month period totaled $0.15 a share, down from $0.24 a year earlier, but better than the $0.11 per share that analysts expected.

When Hexcel’s results are put into the context of the severe worldwide slump that commercial aerospace experienced in 2009 and the beginning of 2010, the company more than held its own. Hexcel’s net sales during the first quarter fell -14% to $263.0 million, but commercial aerospace sales fell just -1.2%, to $152.0 million.

Airbus and Boeing related sales were up more than +10%, led by Boeing and its composite-intensive 787. Significantly, total sales to Boeing and Airbus were more than +15% above the average for the final three quarters of 2009. Revenues attributed to new composite-built aircraft from Boeing and Airbus represented more than 15% of the company’s commercial aerospace sales; demand from these two manufacturing giants will serve as a crucial driver of the company’s future growth.

Hexcel’s shares are at a 52-week high, but long-range fundamentals still make this a stock worth considering. Hexcel dominates the composite space like no other and is consequently the best positioned to ride the enormous shift in aerospace toward composites.