The difference two months makes
The difference between the February newsletter and this one is striking just by
looking at two stories. In February our cover story was about the growth of the Airbus
campus in Mobile. Another story focused on the growth of Pensacola International
Airport, which was beating projections.
Then we have the April issue, and it’s an entirely different ballgame. The assembly of
jetliners in Mobile has been paused, and airport traffic is down 90 percent. All of this
because of the novel coronavirus, which is claiming lives and upending the economy.
Because of social distancing requirements, the Federal Aviation Administration has
released a policy on using video links and other “remote technology” to conduct
inspections and help validate regulatory compliance.
According to Aviation Week, the March 31 policy statement covers using real-time
and recorded video “to perform prototype conformity inspections, engineering and
ground tests, engineering compliance inspections, production conformity inspections,
and inspections” for issuing 8130-3s, or airworthiness approval tags.
The FAA said remote technology may have limitations that could render it unsuitable
for some applications, so it advises careful consideration on when it should be used.
The policy is part of an expanding set of guidance that the FAA has issued to help
ensure it can maintain oversight, and industry can comply with regulations, while it
waits out the COVID-19 crisis. Other changes have granted exemptions to training
normally done in person, or extensions to expiring licenses, such as pilot medical
certificates that require non-emergency check-ups to renew.
The FAA also has relaxed its requirement for annual in-person surveillance of
agency-certificated repair stations outside of the U.S. The change grants certificate-
expiration extensions to shops that have been approved for at least a year, even if
the FAA’s required surveillance is not done. Newly certificated shops still will be
inspected within their first year and will not get extensions, the agency added.
While the pandemic will dominate the news for some time to come, other aerospace
stories without any COVID-19 connection did get published in our daily news feed.
Here’s a rundown of the more significant ones.
It was back in 2015 that we had a story in the newsletter about the F-35
reprogramming lab at Eglin Air Force Base. That story discussed the plans to
establish other labs for foreign partners of the program.
Well in February, representatives of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the
Royal Australian Air Force held a ribbon-cutting for their F-35 reprogramming
The Australia Canada United Kingdom Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL), like the
United States Reprogramming Laboratory next door and the nearby Norway Italy
Reprogramming Laboratory, will be involved in the ongoing development of mission
data files for the F-35. Since the partnership was formed, Canada has backed away
from purchasing the F-35, but the laboratory will retain that country’s name.
Mission data files assist the F-35's array of optical, electromagnetic and other
sensors in identifying threats. The programs are what give the stealth fighter its
lethality - putting in the fight, so to speak.
The F-35 is a highly capable fighter, a digital jet packed with fiber optics and
programming that makes it a flying computer. It’s designed with jaw-dropping
capabilities requiring more than 8 million lines of coding. For
comparison, a million lines of coding is roughly 18,000 pages.
Computer coding underpins all the F-35 capabilities. It enables flight controls; radar
functionality; communications, navigation and identification; electronic attack; sensor
fusion; and weapons deployment.
What gives the F-35 battle smarts are the mission data files being created by Eglin’s
electronic warfare experts. The United States Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL)
was established in 2010.
The Pentagon had to do something to relieve the heavy workload of the Eglin lab
and established another lab at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif.
But there was another problem to address. It was the issue of access to source
codes. The Pentagon has had a policy of never sharing source codes for any U.S.
weapons system. But the F-35 is being developed by the United States, the primary
funder, and partner nations who have spent millions. They wanted access to source
codes to be able to modify data packages to suit their needs.
In the fall of 2014, a compromise was reached that would ease the Eglin lab workload
and at the same time provide reprogramming labs for partner nations. With opening
of the ACURL, Eglin now has its full contingent.
An AC-130U Spooky crew provided more than nine hours of air support to special
operations forces, enabling the rescue of 15 personnel during a mass casualty
evacuation as part of an April 2019 mission in Afghanistan.
The 14 crew members of “Spooky 41” operating in Afghanistan's Nangarhar
Province, were honored with a medals ceremony at Hurlburt Field Monday.
For nine hours on that day the gunship crew from the Hurlburt Field-based 4th
Special Operations Squadron provided fire support that allowed U.S. and other
ground forces to prevail, and also allowed for the evacuation of 15 injured ground
The commander and navigator aboard Spooky 41 that day. Capt. Neils J.
Abderhalden and Capt. John H. Crandall Jr., each were presented with a
Distinguished Flying Cross.
The 12 other crewmembers were awarded the Air Medal.
Saudi Arabian international military students in February resumed flight training on
U.S. bases including Naval Air Station Pensacola, as new policies are being put in
place regulating firearm ownership by all foreign military trainees on U.S. soil.
In a press release the Navy said Saudi Arabian students had resumed training. The
students, stationed at NAS Pensacola, NAS Whiting Field and NAS Mayport in
Florida, were ordered to stand down just days after the Dec. 6 terrorist attack on NAS
Pensacola that left three sailors dead and eight wounded.
The gunman was also killed.
An entire class of aviation maintenance students at George Stone Technical College
received job offers from ST Engineering in February.
ST Engineering, which has a maintenance, repair and overhaul hangar at Pensacola
International Airport, will get three more MRO hangars in a $218 million expansion.
The company expects to bring 1,700 new jobs to the area. The company has been
ramping up its staffing efforts over the past few years. Last week all 24 students who
are set to complete their certification process this May were offered jobs when they
Airbus and the Baldwin County Commission plan to partner to provide new training
opportunities for students.
Airbus is offering new technical programs through its Flight Works Alabama program.
The 18,000-square-foot Flight Works Alabama at the Mobile Aeroplex is designed to
be a hub for students to explore opportunities in the aerospace industry.
It will house an interactive exhibition area, workshop, classrooms and more. Airbus
will invite 50 10th-graders from every Baldwin County High School for a day of hands-
Once in 11th grade, interested and qualified students will be able to apply for the
FlightPath9 training program. Airbus in Mobile builds A320 and A220 jetliners, and
has grown to nearly 1,100 employees in five years and will be adding more.
Baldwin County Commissioners, who met with the head of the Airbus Mobile plant, will
vote on the partnership at the next regular meeting. Baldwin County students will be
able to enter the program in the fall of 2020.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in February announced a $4.8 million grant for the Pensacola
International Airport, the final piece of the $210 million project to expand the airport's
ST Engineering campus.
The expansion project, which calls for building three more maintenance, repair and
overhaul (MRO) hangars and office space for ST Engineering in addition to the one
already in operation, is expected to bring more than 1,300 jobs to the airport.
ST Engineering opened its first MRO hangar at the airport in June 2018. That hangar
is expected to employ 400 people when operating at full capacity, putting the number
of jobs at the entire facility at more than 1,700 people. In January ST Engineer had
163 employees at the airport.
The announced grant is from the Florida Job Growth Fund.
ST Engineering also has an MRO operation in Mobile, Ala.
Frontier Airlines is going to stick with Mobile’s downtown airport after all, according
to the Mobile Airport Authority. Frontier will offer direct flights to Orlando International
Airport starting April 18.
Frontier opened in Mobile with direct flights to Denver and Chicago, then more
recently said it would suspend service April 22. Frontier’s latest move means the new
mini-terminal that the Airport Authority opened at the Downtown Mobile Airport in
2019 will continue to serve at least one client airline. That terminal was built in part to
showcase the feasibility of swapping commercial passenger service from Mobile
Regional Airport in west Mobile to the downtown airport.
Florida’s Great Northwest
Jennifer Conoley has been chosen as the new president and chief executive officer
of Florida’s Great Northwest, the regional economic development organization
representing 12 counties across northwest Florida.
The group began its search for a new CEO at the end of 2019 with the departure of
Kim Wilmes, who before that had worked at Enterprise Florida.
Conoley has over a decade of experience in economic development. For the past
seven years, she has served as senior economic development project manager at
Gulf Power, and prior to that worked at the Bay Economic Development Alliance in
Panama City, Fla.
- Gulf Coast Reporters League