Thinking Outside the Plane: Aerospace Companies with Non-Aviation Departments

Bombardier's Walt Disney World monorail (Photo: Ian McMurtry)

While many corporations have found success in the aviation sector, by building everything from engines to aircraft, others have ventured further or have found ways to better other transportation sectors. For this story, stay grounded as we look at some popular aviation companies and their ability to advance other industries.

General Electric

One of the first companies that come to mind is none other than Boston-based conglomerate General Electric (GE). Thanks to GE’s large size, it’s been able to leverage resources to become a dominate player in numerous industries.

Outside of making jet engines at GE Aviation, the U.S. company has other operations that include GE Power, GE Oil & Gas, GE Healthcare, GE Transportation, GE Capital, and GE Digital. GE Power provides solutions to various types of power outputs and includes advances in gas, nuclear, and steam power. Furthermore, GE has found ways to save people money via new types of lightbulbs and household power consuming products.

While the cleaner resources are exposed through GE Power, GE Oil and Gas makes use of both oilfields and natural gas fields around the world. The company helps with advancements in drilling, transporting, and refining the fuels. Technology has also helped advance GE Digital and Healthcare fields. As for GE Transportation, the company specializes in both rail and ocean-going fields. GE Transportation builds diesel-electric trains in Erie, PA and Fort Worth, TX, as well as engine blocks in Grove City, PA. While GE is newer to building trains, the company has found success since the 1990s with more environmentally friendly yet high horsepower train engines through the likes of the GE Evolution engines that have come to dominate the rails in recent years.

Furthermore, GE has made passenger train engines, with the company winning over corporations like Amtrak, VIA Rail, New Haven, and New Jersey Transit with the GE GENESIS engines being both fuel efficient and able to handle both the larger Superliner train cars and the narrow bridges in the northeastern United States. The success in diesel engines on the rails has allowed General Electric to apply the engine to the ocean with heavy duty tugs and ships using GE engines. To help finance some of the products GE offers, GE Capital leases aviation, transportation, energy and industrial materials and products to companies and people for cheaper than the actual cost.

Bombardier Transportation

The Canada-based jet builder might be known for their regional jets that operate around the world, but it’s their trains that get people places on the ground. Bombardier Transportation, which is based in Berlin, has become known for building high speed and electric trains. Bombardier started work in 1970 with the purchase of Montreal Locomotive Works and took priority with the light rail and tilting train designs. The company has bought and sold various companies over the course of its history, continually reaffirming itself as a leader in metro and electric train cars. Some of the company’s most popular train metro cars include the London Underground’s Victoria Line, the Montreal Metro, the Docklands Light Railway, and the company is currently working to replace cars on both the BART and Chicago ‘L’. As for locomotives, Bombardier is known for their ALP-46 electric locomotive and both the Acela Express and Acela Regional head units. The company has also assisted with the creation of the famed InterCity Express (ICE) with Siemens being the leader of the project and Bombardier taking a smaller role.

While Bombardier Transportation has created famed train systems, the company also specializes in monorails. The company started building monorails after the transportation department opened in the 1970s and have created numerous rail lines across the United States.

Bombardier has been responsible for one of the busiest and most popular rail lines in the United States: the Walt Disney World Monorail System. The company created the Mark VI monorails in 1989, and only two years later the company delivered 12 full trains at a price tag of $3.5 million each. Bombardier had to build a new train for WDW in 2011 following the collision of two monorails in 2009. Other monorail projects for Bombardier include East Express Monorail in Sao Paulo, the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition Monorail, the Jacksonville Skyway, and the Tampa International Airport monorail.

The Boeing Company

Despite The Boeing Company’s rich history in aviation, the company made a bold choice in the 1960s to expand and create Boeing Marine for naval vessels. Boeing prioritized the hydrofoil type boats from the docks in Renton, WA. The company started with the creation of the USS High Point as a submarine chaser hydrofoil to protect the United States from Soviet Union submarines that could potentially be in the oceans nearby. Boeing followed the USS High Point with the creation of two patrol gunboat hydrofoils named the USS Flagstaff and USS Tucumcari. Boeing then created the Pegasus-class hydrofoils with a fleet of six boats being built over the course of four years. Despite the success of the Pegasus-class hydrofoil, Boeing abandoned building military grade hydrofoils and transitioned to jetfoils.

The company’s first commercial marine vessel took to the waters in 1976 with the release of the Boeing 929. The boat can carry between 160-400 people with Boeing wanting to see the jetfoil used in Asia and Hawaii. Boeing found success and people started to order the Boeing 929, however, the aircraft company sold the rights to the hydrofoil to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and decided to focus on aviation both commercially and militarily.

Conclusion

While we all can’t fly 24/7 or might claim that “If it ain’t Boeing I ain’t going,” odds are you supported one of these aviation companies without knowing. The ability to expand outside of aviation has allowed these companies to learn some other traits and provide a stronger financial backing than the whirlwind that is business in aviation. So whether it is by traveling by rivers, rails or the sky or just doing daily housework, you can rest assured that one of your favorite aviation companies are there to help.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry
  • BernieFlatters

    I think an equally interesting topic would be airlines that run non-airline operations. GDS’s, catering, hotels, car rentals come to mind from the past, not sure what airlines are up to in the present. Even NWA closed their dedicated cargo system.

  • Mike Zaccheo

    General Electric doesn’t build entire trains, just the locomotives. The entire diesel engine is built in Grove City, PA, not just the blocks. Also GE has been building locomotives since the 1940’s so I wouldn’t say they are newer to the market either.