|Florida's aerospace footprint
When it comes to aerospace and aviation, Florida is among the most active in the
nation with clusters spread throughout the state, including the military intensive
The new $46 million VT MAE maintenance, repair and overhaul hangar at Pensacola
International Airport is finished, save for installation of the equipment and a formal
An open house June 9 will give the public a chance to take a look at the 173,000
square-foot hangar, the latest aviation addition in a state that is among the nation’s
leaders in the hot field of aerospace.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, sees many reasons the
state is a national leader.
“Florida is business-friendly, has superb weather, good infrastructure, and
considerable political clout. The workforce is getting more skilled as aerospace
facilities open there, which certainly helps,” he wrote in response to an email asking
for his assessment of Florida’s outlook for the future.
The new Pensacola MRO adds yet another piece to segment of the aviation industry
where Florida excels.
“We’re the No. 1 state for MROs, we have over 600 establishments statewide,” said
Tim Vanderhoof, senior vice president of business development for Enterprise
Florida, the state’s principal economic development organization.
Besides MROs, Florida has long been a gateway to space, the air traffic hub for the
western hemisphere, a center for flight training and home to aircraft and component
The biggest names in aerospace and defense have significant operation in the state.
Enterprise Florida says more than 85,000 Floridians work in aviation and aerospace
industries with large numbers of rocket scientists, machinists, pilots, engineers, and
In the PwC 2017 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness ranking, Florida is tied for
sixth with Ohio, down from previous rankings. PwC writes that it’s possible that after
receiving substantial aerospace investment in recent years, the state is experiencing
talent constraints, which is exerting upward pressure on wages.2
Florida is a big player in defense, with more than 20 major military installations. In
fiscal year 2016, the state had 124,500 Department of Defense personnel, fifth
largest in the nation, and $14 billion in defense contracts, fifth largest in the nation. It’
s also home to the second largest military retiree population, and 1.56 million
veterans, third largest in the nation, according to the December 2017 Florida
According to Enterprise Florida, the state’s universities are among the nation’s top
producers of STEM graduates, including many specializing in aviation and aerospace.
“For the third year in a row, the University of Central Florida has produced more
graduates getting hired by aviation/aerospace defense companies than any other
university in the nation,” said Vanderhoof.
The state is home to two spaceports. It’s best known for Kennedy Space Center,
which has been the launch site for every U.S. manned space flight since 1968.
Space Florida, the state’s aerospace and spaceport economic development
organization, was created to strengthen Florida’s position as a global leader in
aerospace research, investment, exploration, and commerce. The agency
consolidated three entities – Florida Space Authority, Florida Space Research
Institute, and Florida Aerospace Finance Corporation – through the Space Florida
Act of May 2006.
Vanderhoof pointed to Blue Origin’s new facility and OneWeb’s satellite plant nearing
completion as examples. “From a space perspective, we’re continuing to see that
Vanderhoof said the 85,000 plus aviation and aerospace workforce and the name
recognition of aerospace companies in the state “speaks volumes” about the
infrastructure and business climate. “We’re going to continue to see our trajectory
While the 19-acre VT MAE operation at Pensacola International Airport is getting all
the publicity right now, Northwest Florida’s main claim to aerospace fame is military
aviation. It’s home to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field in
Milton, Hurlburt Field in Mary Esther, Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso, and Tyndall
Air Force Base near Panama City.
With nearly 44,000 active duty Air Force, Navy and Army personnel and more than
19,000 civilians employed in aerospace and defense, there are scientists, engineers,
production workers and more, according to Florida’s Great Northwest, the regional
economic development organization for the Panhandle.3
The bases have attracted many of the largest U.S. defense contractors, international
companies, and commercial aviation businesses involved in a variety of cutting-edge
research and development activities, including aerial weapons development.
In addition, there is a regional university-based research and development
infrastructure that includes Florida State University, the University of Florida, Florida
A&M University, and the University of West Florida, with university centers of
research in propulsion, robotics, commercial space flight, and composite materials
and systems, according to FGNW.
The Gulf Coast is home to one of the largest concentrations of aviation, aerospace,
and defense assets in the world. Expansive areas of restricted airspace over land
and the Gulf of Mexico are used for test and evaluation activities, including testing of
unmanned air systems.
Primary pilot training is done at NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field, while Eglin
AFB and Tyndall AFB train F-35 and F-22 pilots, respectively. Hurlburt Field is home
of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.
“Aerospace is not new to Northwest Florida,” said Rick Byars, economic development
chief for Gulf Power.
“We’ve been doing aerospace for a long time. What’s new to Northwest Florida is just
a real strong concentration on the opportunity to serve Airbus and Boeing now in
South Carolina, so we’ve expanded what we’re chasing but it’s not new to us.”
He said the region has a strong workforce and is developing more training tools,
which he thinks is the biggest concern for any company, but especially aerospace.
One of the most significant aerospace activities in this region is the research and
development done at Eglin on aerial weapons development. It does as much R&D as
some of the nation’s leading universities. Nearby is the former Doolittle Institute, now
called DEFENSEWERX. It’s mission is to remove some of the barriers to help
contractors work with the military to more rapidly bring innovative products into the
hands of the military.
The economy of Northeast Florida also is heavily reliant on the U.S. military. It’s the
region’s biggest job generator, dwarfing the region’s corporate players, according to
Florida Trend. The region has about 75,000 active duty, reserve and civilian
personnel, some 14 percent of the area’s workforce.4
Jacksonville is home to Naval Air Station Jacksonville with about 12,000 military
personnel and 7,000 civilian workers. It’s the largest Navy base in the Southeast and
third largest in the nation. It’s home to more than 110 tenant commands, including
the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE), the base’s largest tenant.
FRCSE performs depot-level rework operations on designated weapons systems. It
manufactures parts and assemblies as required and provides engineering services,
and is the largest industrial employer in the region with 3,000 civilians, 1,000 military
personnel and 1,000 contractors.
NAS Jacksonville is also the site of the MQ-4C Triton Mission Control Center and
Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19). The city is also home to the Jacksonville
Air National Guard. In nearby Clay County is Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.
The defense impact is 115,965 jobs and $5.2 billion in direct defense spending,
according to Florida Defense Factbook.
One of the best-known regions for aerospace is the Space Coast, the region around
Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. All of NASA-launched
manned spaceflights, beginning with Project Mercury in 1961, have been from KSC
or Cape Canaveral. The last manned flight was aboard the Space Shuttle in 2011.
One reason rockets are launched in Florida has to do with the Earth's rotation. It
rotates most quickly at the equator, and to take advantage of this, in adding to the
orbital velocity of the rocket, it is most beneficial to launch from a southerly location
(near the equator).
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is controlled by the 45th Space Wing and is
responsible for ensuring America’s safe and assured access to space. It co-joins
Kennedy Space Center and consists of 47 Launch complexes used to launch Atlas,
Titan and Delta rockets.
Brevard County, in addition to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is home to Patrick
Air Force Base, a major component of the Air Force Space Command. It provides
combat capabilities through launch, range and expeditionary operations. Host group
is the 45th Space Wing.
Orange County is also home to the Naval Support Activity Orlando - Multi-Service
Modeling, Simulation and Training Acquisition, and the Naval Ordinance Test Unit.
NSA Orlando is home to a variety of private industry, government and academic
organizations, many of whom specialize in high-tech research and development
programs, including modeling and simulation.
NSA Orlando is a 40- acre facility located in the Central Florida Research Park
adjacent to the University of Central Florida. It provides shore installation support
services to DoD tenant.
In the Tampa region, Hillsborough County is home to MacDill Air Force Base, which
hosts U.S. Central Command, one of six geographically defined unified commands in
the DoD. It is responsible for U.S. security interests in 20 nations in Northeast Africa
as well as Southwest and Central Asia.
MacDill also hosts the U.S. Special Operations Command, with its primary mission of
disrupting and defeating terrorist networks that threaten US citizens and interests
MacDill also hosts the 6th Air Mobility Wing, whose primary mission is airlift and aerial
Pinellas County is home to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, the largest
and busiest air station in the Coast Guard. It operates in the Gulf of Mexico, the
Caribbean basin and the Bahamas. The station maintains deployed H-60s for
operations in the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos engaging anti-drug and migrant
smuggling operations. The station also has C-130s deployed in support of its
operations in the Caribbean.
Polk County is home to Avon Park Air Force Range, the largest live ordnance
bombing and gunnery range east of the Mississippi River. It includes 400 square
miles of restricted airspace, 1,000 square miles of military operating area and
106,035 acres inside the fence. It’s utilized by active, reserve and Gulf units from the
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, special operations and Homeland
South Florida is home of the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District Headquarters Miami,
Homestead Air Reserve Base, the U.S. Southern Command and Naval Air Station
Key West. Defense activities account for over $4.5 billion in direct spending and
Miami itself has been a commercial and military flight center going back to the early
20th century. In the past five years, local aviation-sector jobs have grown from a total
of $1.2 billion in payroll to $2 billion, accounting for one of every four local jobs.5
The industry’s top trade group, the International Air Transport Association, chose
Miami for its confab in 2017, the Wings of Change conference. It’s held every two
The Miami-Dade Beacon Council is the county’s economic development agency,
whose 20-year initiative is to grow the aviation industry.
The number of aviation and aerospace companies in Miami-Dade has grown from
448 in 2011 to 483 in 2017, resulting in industry-sector job growth of 23 percent and
an increase of average salaries from $60,491 to $82,811. In Broward County,
industry jobs have grown nearly as much, by 20.8 percent over the past five years.6
Miami is the gateway to the Americas. It has an industrial cluster with airports,
commercial and private aviation, parts/services, pilot training, and attorneys
specializing in aviation law. It’s the nation’s busiest airport for international cargo, and
third busiest for international passengers.
Aviation is also big in Broward, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
The hub is the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Miami International Airport has 200 plus companies in maintenance, repair and
overhaul. Hundreds of others are located elsewhere in the county and in Broward.
Jobs involve a range of skills, including maintenance, repair, air traffic control, fuel
services, catering, freight, security, customs and freight logistics, engineering,
passenger services, clean manufacturing of electronics and complex parts.
Miami now has the nation’s largest cluster of flight-training facilities and simulators,
including a Boeing facility used to train pilots from all over the world, and Airbus’s
Americas flight training center. In early 2017, Franco-Italian turboprop-plane
manufacturer ATR opened a Miami training center.7
Miami is a center for flight simulation training, attracting thousands of pilots from
around the world. Boeing, Airbus both have major simulation training in Miami, as
does the Pan Am International Flight Academy, spun out of Pan Am World Airways in
1992 and now owned by the parent company of Japan’s All Nippon Airways.
In a Miramar warehouse, workers repair and maintain airplane parts. And at North
Miami Beach, a company deploys drones to survey difficult-to-reach property.8
Pratt & Whitney has been in northern Palm Beach since 1958, and today has a
7,000-acre campus that manufactures and tests F-135 engines used in the F-35
Joint Strike Fighter. It has over 1,000 employees in Palm Beach. In 2013, it
completed a 100,000-square-foot jet engine production facility to go with its existing
400,000-square-foot plant. It operates 24/7, including engine testing.
Pratt & Whitney’s plant has PW100 engines, which are installed in planes such as the
Airbus A320neo. The engines are suspended from an assembly line built into the
ceiling while they are manufactured by hand.
Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies, leases space at its campus to
Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky, for helicopter manufacturing and testing, and
Aerojet Rocketdyne, for rocket propulsion.
1 Aviation & Aerospace, Enterprise Florida.
2 2017 Aerospace manufacturing attractiveness rankings, August 2017, PwC.
3 Aerospace & Defense, Florida’s Great Northwest.
4 A Mighty Military Presence, Dec. 28, 2017, Florida Trend.
5 Powerful aviation industry soars in Miami-Dade, April 2, 2017, Miami Herald.
8 Aviation and aerospace: South Florida’s $41 billion economic engine - and
growing, June 16, 2017, South Florida Business Journal.