|MRO funds landed; airport services
It was a number of years ago that a friend in Mobile expressed his displeasure with
officials from Pensacola for meeting with what was then called VT MAE to discuss an
MRO facility in Pensacola.
He looked at it as raiding a long-time Mobile company. But in the end it was clear that
if a company is looking for an additional location, it’s better they stay in this region.
We’ve come a long way since then. Those talks led to VT MAE (now ST Engineering)
establishing a $46 million maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hangar at
Pensacola International Airport. Now it’s on track to get three new hangars, office
space, warehouse and shop buildings in a $210 million project, making Pensacola
and Mobile two key MRO centers.
And considering Mobile is on track to become the fourth-largest aircraft
manufacturing center in the world on the wings of Airbus, the MRO facilities are a big
The MRO expansion project, which had already been promised $25 million by the
Florida Department of Transportation, got another $20 million commitment from
FDOT Feb. 13.
FDOT is amending its work program to removing funding from several other projects
to fund the airport project, a process it said takes about eight weeks, according to its
letter to the mayor. FDOT's work program and budget will still need to be reviewed by
the Florida Legislature, but if approved, Pensacola will receive the funding in 2021
for the project.
Several other organizations also increased their commitment before FDOT. In early
February the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission each
approved committing an additional $5 million a piece to the project, bringing the local
governments' contribution to $15 million each.
Then on Feb. 8, Triumph Gulf Coast - the group that oversees the distribution of BP
oil spill recovery funds - agreed to provide another $10 million for the project, upping
the previous award. The funding was $2.5 million less than what the city wanted.
The initial grant of $56 million called for a commitment to Pensacola that would create
1,325 jobs and keep them in the community for at least three years. Triumph upped
that to seven years as a condition for the extra funds.
ST Engineering has said its first hangar, which opened in June 2018, would generate
400 jobs. The city, after all the additional contributions that came this month, is still
on the hook for about $4.8 million. But Mayor Grover Robinson is optimistic that can
Triumph's vote removed the March 31 deadline the city was facing to find all of the
other sources of funding,
but the city, ST Engineering and Triumph will have to negotiate and sign a contract
before the grant is awarded.
Airports in the region have announced new service, but the most striking may be the
announcement that Denver-based Frontier Airlines will offer service to and from the
Downtown Airport at Brookley Field beginning May 1 from a new passenger terminal.
It's significant because it’s all part of the city’s move to move passenger service from
Mobile Regional Airport in west Mobile to the downtown location where Airbus is
building passenger jets.
Frontier will provide nonstop service to Chicago's O'Hare Airport and Denver.
Frontier will be the first airline to offer service from Brookley. Via Airlines has talked
about providing service at Brookley but currently operates out of the regional airport,
where United, Delta, and American Airlines also operate.
A feasibility study commissioned by the Mobile Airport Authority found that the
benefits of moving passenger service from west Mobile to downtown outweighed the
drawbacks. The pluses include its location downtown and easy interstate access. It’s
also closer to potential patrons in Baldwin County, making it more competitive with
airports in Pensacola and Biloxi.
Other new air service routes have also been recently announced. Over in Florida at
the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS), Allegiant Airlines announced the debut
of nonstop service to seven cities: Des Moines, Iowa; Huntington (Tri-State), W. Va.;
Little Rock, Ark.; Rockford/Chicago, Ill.; Shreveport, La.; Toledo, Ohio/Detroit, Mich.;
and Wichita, Kan.
“We couldn’t be more proud of our partnership with Allegiant Air and the seven new
nonstop flights from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, bringing our total to 37
nonstop destinations,” said Tracy Stage, Okaloosa County Airports Director. All
seven routes will operate twice weekly.
Earlier, Allegiant Air also announced the debut of nonstop service from VPS to
Omaha's Eppley Airfield (OMA) and Tulsa International Airport (TUL) beginning June
6, 2019. Tickets are on sale now.
Also at VPS, Silver Airways announced the debut of daily nonstop service from VPS
to Orlando International Airport (MCO) beginning on May 17, 2019. Silver will
announce its flight schedule and propose fares Feb. 19, when tickets will go on sale.
Silver Airways on Feb. 13 started daily nonstop service between Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Pensacola International Airport
To celebrate the new service, Silver is offering fares from $89 available at
SilverAirways.com for a limited time for travel between Feb. 13 and May 22 for
ticketing before Nov. 19.
“The commencement of direct service to Ft. Lauderdale and the South
Florida area provides another link to one of the Pensacola Gulf Coast Region’s top
ten market areas,” said Pensacola Airport Director Dan Flynn.
Years ago there was talk about some of the airports in the region joining together for
a larger airport to serve the entire region. But it’s been clear for a long time now that
the wide ranges of choices for travelers is one of the highlights of this region.
In its first test of an RS-25 rocket engine since an aborted test in mid-December,
NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC), Miss., had a successful hot-fire Feb. 13 on the
A-1 Test Stand.
The engines, repurposed engines from the Space Shuttle program, are crucial to
NASA’s ambitious Space Launch System (SLS) program, a massive space vehicle
that will boost astronauts deeper into space than ever before.
The hot fire marked the first RS-25 test of the year at SSC, continuing a series with
developmental engine No. 0525 that began last August.
The test once more featured a flight controller to be used on an SLS mission and
marked the third time since last February that NASA has powered its RS-25 engine
up to 113 percent of original thrust. NASA is testing RS-25 engines to help power the
SLS rocket, being built to send humans deeper into space than ever before.
Four RS-25 engines, firing simultaneously, will produce 2 million pounds of combined
thrust during SLS launch and ascent. RS-25 engines for initial missions are former
space shuttle engines, designed to provide a power level categorized as 100 percent
For SLS, engineers are modifying RS-25 engines to provide up to 111 percent of
original thrust. Testing at 113 percent at SSC demonstrates a margin of safety for
operating the engine at the higher thrust.
A key component of the modifications is the new flight controller, which acts as the
“brain” to help control engine operation and facilitate communication between the
engine and SLS rocket.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has received delivery of 18 new controllers from subcontractor
Honeywell International Inc., 16 to be used on the first four SLS missions, one
qualification unit and one engine spare. NASA has been testing the new controllers
at Stennis since March 2017.
The RS-25 hot fire also continued testing of two engine components – a 3D-printed
pogo accumulator to dampen pressure oscillations that can cause flight instability
and a main combustion chamber fabricated using a hot isostatic pressure (HIP)
bonding technique. The latest test at the A-1 stand was the first since mid-December,
when a test was terminated early due to an observed anomaly.
On the commercial space front, a company using Stennis Space Center now has use
an historic launch complex in Florida.
Relativity Space, a three-year-old start-up that aims to build rockets using 3D
printers, announced a contract in January with the Air Force to build and operate a
launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The five-year “multi-user” agreement means Relativity can begin operating out of
Launch Complex 16 (LC-16), the historic location built in the 1950s and site of
hundreds of American space launches. There is no monetary exchange or lease
payment to the Air Force.
The agreement includes an option to extend for an exclusive 20-year term. It’s the
fourth private company to have an orbital launch site at Cape Canaveral. The others
are SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin.
Relativity CEO Tim Ellis estimates the launch facilities represent more than $10
million worth of existing infrastructure. Relativity has built one of the world’s largest 3-
D printers, called Stargate, and has developed its own rocket engine, Aeon 1.
Relativity has a 20-year leasing agreement with SSC in Mississippi to test fire its
rocket engines at the E-4 complex. The contract gives Relativity access to four
robust testing chambers at SSC. Relativity, headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., is
looking for more space in L.A. It has grown from 14 employees a year ago to 60.
Private companies like Relativity are showing the value of utilizing unused or under-
used NASA facilities. Rather than lying dormant, the expensive NASA assets are
helping to fuel this nation’s robust commercial space industry - and to renew interest
It could be argued that the money saved by Relativity by using NASA facilities is
helping it develop new technologies.
The company, which is building its space vehicle using 3D printing technology,
recently won a new patent grant for its autonomous technology. Disrupting 50 years
of aerospace technology, Relativity is the only aerospace factory to use a proprietary
and patented autonomous 3D printing technology, machine learning, and software to
optimize every aspect of the rocket manufacturing process.
Relativity can print its next-generation Terran 1 rocket in less than 60 days, while
traditional rockets take 18 months or more. Terran 1 is the world’s first completely 3D
printed rocket, with 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets.
Relativity says it’s on track to conduct its first full orbital launch by the end of 2020.
On another space front, the government shutdown did impacting NASA's SLS
program for a time. Qualification testing on the SLS’s intertank and hydrogen tank
was delayed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“The intertank was undergoing testing when the government shut down,” according
to John Shannon, the SLS program manager at Boeing. It also meant testing could
not begin on the hydrogen tank that arrived at Marshall around the time of the
The testing to ensure rocket components can withstand harsh launch conditions had
already been completed for the engine. The shutdown also impacted for a time
modifications to the stand at SSC that will hold the rocket during a test-fire of all four
Despite the shutdown, Boeing thinks it will be able to deliver the first completed
rocket to NASA as planned in the late fall.
Since the last newsletter in mid-December, nearly 30 aerospace-related Department
of Defense contracts have been awarded that have some connection to the Gulf
Coast Aerospace Corridor region.
The contracts during that time had a combined value of nearly $3 billion.
DoD contracts are included in our daily aerospace news feed if a company from this
region is awarded a contract, either all or in part, or if a site in this region will do
some of the work.
Contracts are also include in our feed if the contracting activity is based in the
region, or if a funded DoD program has a significant presence in the region, such as
the F-35 program.
The list we provide only includes contracts above $7 million in value, and does not
include non-aviation-related contracts.
Far and away, most of the contracts with a connection to this region involve the F-35.
We list it because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training
center, and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is being considered to base F-35s. So that
program is important to the region.
(Compiled from Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor daily news feed from December to