|Florida and its 'certain cachet'
Greg Pyle peaks in the storage room filled with various types of brand new drones
still packed in boxes. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University supplied most of the
unmanned aerial vehicles in its partnership with the Escambia High School ACE
National Flight Academy.
Pyle, a former Air Force navigator, looks forward to opening all the Phantoms and
Inspires and begin training his high school students early next year in the latest
evolution of flight.
“It’s one of the biggest growth segments in the aviation industry,” said Pyle, who
heads the school’s flight academy. “There is tremendous potential for jobs over the
next 20 years.”
In fact, more than 100,000 new high paying jobs will need to be filled by 2025 as
commercial opportunities skyrocket, such as scientific research and surveying crops,
estimated the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
PricewaterhouseCoopers analysts predicted the global market for commercial drone
technology will reach $127 million by 2020. On top of that, drone sales may balloon
to $11.2 billion by 2020 with more than three million manufactured each year,
reported Gartner, a research firm.
At Booker T. Washington High School, Rick Ames runs the Aviation Technology
Academy, where students get hands-on experience on the basics of making an
aircraft fly. It covers electrical systems, hydraulics, steel work, hazardous materials
and other essential aspects to flight.
“This is an opportunity to be highly successful,” Ames said. “I try to push them a little
bit and challenge them. They realize, ‘This ain’t too bad. I can do this.’ ”
Certified aviation technicians in the U.S. workforce totals about 45,000 now, but job
growth will more than double to 92,000 by 2031, industry experts maintain.
Now in its fourth year, the Washington academy has two seniors going to George
Stone Technical College, one to the U.S. Marine Corps and another to Pensacola
State College for futures in high-paying jobs to repair aircraft and perhaps work in
one of more than 600 Maintenance Repair and Overhaul, or MRO, facilities in Florida.
The Escambia flight academy has had the same effect on 17-year-old seniors Grant
Morris and Ethan Turo, who look forward to aerospace careers after getting a jump
start on certifications and skills in their career academy.
“It’s really prepared me for the field I’d like to go into,” said Grant, who wants to
become a pilot. It helped Ethan decide he “really wanted to become an aerospace
Workforce of the future
From Pensacola to Miami, similar stories play out in high schools, vocational and
state colleges. Educators, government officials and commercial leaders have
embarked on a concerted effort like never before to ensure Florida remains a leader
in the aerospace and aviation industry with the production of the next generation of
highly trained workers.
Industry leaders like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon and others
have beat the drum for fresh talent for many years.
Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello continually trumpets his top worry for the future of
aerospace: the demand for a highly-skilled, highly-trained workforce to make sure
the state accomplishes its mission to “Make Florida the Place for Space.”
DiBello told a group of top space decision-makers that industry must play a role in
developing the next generation of aerospace workers: “If we are not responsive to
these concerns, this will become Florida’s aerospace Achilles heel.”
Staying No. 1
Today, Florida is a global leader in the aerospace industry. Florida consistently
ranks in the top five U.S. states for aerospace industry employment, with more than
130,000 workers in 2017. More than 17,144 aerospace-related companies make
their home in Florida, contributing $19 billion in revenue to the state economy,
according to Enterprise Florida.
Across the state aerospace and aviation organizations have responded by
implementing remedies to avoid workforce shortages.
One big effort includes Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and state leaders
joining forces in 2004 to create what’s now called the Gaetz Aerospace Institute.
Originally started as the Aerospace Career Academy, it focuses on increasing
participation among high school students in both aerospace and Science,
Technology, Engineering and Math-related, or STEM, classes.
This year, the program, the largest aerospace/aviation dual enrollment program in
the country, serves 140-plus schools across Florida in about 40 counties and enrolls
about 6,500 students. It even expanded outside the state to Louisiana, Illinois and
Students can earn up to 17 hours of college credit and industry certifications in
classes that include STEM, aviation fundamentals, flight training, unmanned aircraft
systems and spaceflight operations.
“By preparing students with real-life skills and knowledge, we are working hand-in-
hand with government, industries and local school district partners to guarantee a
pipeline of talent for Florida’s growing aerospace and aviation industry,” said Colleen
Conklin, Gaetz Institute executive director and Embry-Riddle assistant professor.
Model education pipeline
The collaboration between the state and local officials continues with VT MAE, which
opened a large maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Pensacola June
2018. The subsidiary of ST Engineering of Singapore now has a $46 million, 173,500-
square-foot hangar at Pensacola International Airport. VT MAE, renamed ST
Engineering Aerospace, plans to initially hire 400 employees with people recruited
primarily from Pensacola and the surrounding area. Three more MRO hangars are
Triumph Gulf Coast, which will distribute $1.5 billion from BP for its 2010 Deepwater
Horizon oil spill to eight Northwest counties through 2033, recently approved $3
million to the Escambia County School District.
The district began preparing for the new aircraft maintenance company by starting
an airframe and powerplant certification program at George Stone Technical Center
and creating the aviation maintenance education program at Washington High
School. George Stone graduated its first class of airframe and powerplant students in
December 2017, while Washington has its first class of seniors.
Funds from Triumph plan to build a new aviation maintenance training hangar at
George Stone, to enhance aviation maintenance education at Washington High
School with new tools and supplies, to provide advanced STEM education to
elementary students and much more.
Besides the Escambia schools, Pensacola State College offers manufacturing
certification, airframe and powerplant (A&P) certification, and an airframe coatings
and corrosion control certification. It plans to develop an Avionics Technology
program, a professional pilot program, and associate’s and bachelor’s degrees
associated with aviation, such as aerospace management and cyber security. The
University of West Florida also partners with the U.S. Air Force ROTC program that
offers an aerospace studies degree. Additionally, UWF offers engineering,
electronics and computer degrees that all support the aerospace industry.
Enterprise Florida officials point to Pensacola efforts as a model for other
communities and companies.
“It’s a good example of training programs supplying VT MAE’s growing workforce,”
said Katie Hogan, Enterprise Florida’s manager of aviation/aerospace and defense.
“There are tremendous opportunities like that all over Florida to find employees and
Targeted investments in aerospace and aviation clusters, such as the one by
Triumph, can spur more companies. Florida currently ranks No. 2 in the nation for
aerospace and aviation organizations and added more than any other state in the
Southeast in 2017.
“We are very high on aerospace jobs,” said Don Gaetz, the Triumph board chairman
and former senate president. “These are high paying jobs that our people can do
and make a decent living.”
Military plays a role
Besides education and training programs, Florida military personnel attract top
aerospace companies looking for their skills and experience. 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. The state
acquired $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 Defense Factbook.
Bill Hafner, vice president of operations for ST Engineering Aerospace, pointed out
the large military and ex-military presence in Pensacola and the rest of Florida makes
it more attractive to aerospace companies looking to relocate.
“After a full career they’ve enjoyed with the military, we can do a cross-train and bring
them into civilian aviation, while utilizing their previous skill set and training,” Hafner
told the Aviation and Aerospace Advisory Council in Mobile, Ala.
Rick Byars, Gulf Power economic development chief, points out that Pensacola is
nicknamed the Cradle of Aviation and home to the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. Also
calling the Northwest Florida region home are 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.
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. One of the most significant
aerospace activities in the region is aerial weapons research and development at
Eglin. It does as much R&D as some of the nation’s leading universities.
“Aerospace is not new to Northwest Florida,” Byars said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Miami International Airport has more than 200 companies in MRO. It also
owns 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. Franco-Italian turboprop-plane manufacturer ATR opened a Miami
training center in early 2017.
“We have a huge defense presence in our state,” said Sean Helton, Enterprise
Florida’s vice president of strategic communications. “So much work is being done
Space Coast talent search
Florida’s crown jewel, though, remains the Kennedy Space Center, which has served
as the launch site for every U.S. manned space flight since 1968. Florida also
features Cape Canaveral and Cecil Spaceport, which plans its first launch in
Jacksonville around the end of the year.
The three spaceports make up the well-known Space Coast, which serves as the hub
for a growing commercial space industry. These new ground-breaking companies
leading the rocket renaissance include SpaceX, Blue Origin and OneWeb Satellites.
The new companies have largely drawn on the abundant talent of the 8,000
aerospace workers laid off when NASA ended its shuttle program in 2011.
Fortunately, the state’s universities rank among the nation’s top producers of STEM
graduates, including many specializing in aviation and aerospace, according to
Scott Henderson, Blue Origin’s orbital launch director, hopes to find lots of
homegrown talent as the commercial company grows to 300 employees. The
company has begun moving into its completed 750,000-square-foot rocket factory
near Kennedy Space Center in Exploration Park. It will produce the New Glenn
rockets scheduled for its first launch in 2020.
Henderson sounded optimistic about the workforce. He predicted Brevard County will
become for space what Silicon Valley is for high-tech.
“There’s a certain cachet about the Space Coast and its historical gravitas,”
Henderson said. “It’s where space happens in the U.S. It’s where the talent is, it’s
where the creativity is, it’s where modern manufacturing is taking hold, it’s where the
regulatory environment is good, and it’s a place where people want to live. Blue
Origin is proud to help rekindle the excitement that was here back in the space
UCF No. 1 in supplying A&D employees
For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Central Florida supplied more
graduates to aerospace and defense companies than any other college in the
Aviation Week Network’s 2018 Workforce Survey found the Orlando university led
the nation again.
It comes as no surprise to professors, students or even UCF College of Engineering
and Computer Science Dean Michael Georgiopoulos. The institution’s location in
Orlando allows students to do meaningful, real world research with some of the top
industries in the nation, like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Duke Energy and
Siemens to name a few.
“UCF students benefit from the massive intersection of faculty, staff, community and
industry who, as a collective whole, provide limitless opportunities for learning
through shared interests, experiences and goals,” Georgiopoulos said. “With so
many people helping students from so many angles, even with students helping other
students, UCF succeeds at creating the next generation of engineering and
computer science leaders.”
UCF’s engineering program has been recognized nationally for its strengths in optics,
simulation, aerodynamics, aero-structures, space aviation, advanced
turbomachinery, systems and controls, unmanned aerial vehicles and advanced
It has all propelled Central Florida to be recognized in the 2018 issue of U.S. News &
World Report’s Best Colleges as the 10th Most Innovative School. It ranks above
Harvard, Princeton, Duke and Johns Hopkins in the annual list.
The college also ranks in the top 25 in patents issued and top five of the 12
aerospace programs in Florida, which includes the University of Florida, Embry-
Riddle Aeronautical University and University of Miami. The Florida Institute
Technology ranks No. 6.
Founded in 1963 and now one of the nation’s largest institutions, the 9,000
engineering students take advantage of its location in Florida’s strongest economic
region. It offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace, aeronautical and
The college also has innovative programs such as the Engineering Leadership &
Innovation Institute. Plus, students have access to high-tech equipment and facilities
such as the Maker Space lab complex. Many of the hands-on projects they work on
include ones being worked on in the A&D industry.
Additionally, UCF offers its EXCEL program. The goal is to increase STEM student
success in the first two years of college. EXCEL dedicates resources, expertise and
supervised research opportunities to cohorts of about 200 students each year and
“If you had told me when I was a kid I would be studying rocket science, I would have
told you you were crazy,” said Gillian Werner, an aerospace engineering student in
UCF’s “Do Something Big” video.
The UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science graduates are pursued
because they meet the broad needs of the American manufacturing industry.
“We have great training of future employees,” said Sean Helton, Enterprise Florida
vice president of strategic communications. “Lockheed Martin has a strong
partnership with UCF. They bring the students in as interns and then it’s a smooth
and easy transition when they graduate.” - Duwayne Escobedo
The Embry-Riddle factor
If a region wants to be known as a hot spot for aerospace and aviation activities, it’s
helpful to have one of the world’s best-known aerospace institutions set up shop in
your back yard.
Call it the Embry-Riddle factor.
This year is Embry-Riddle’s 90th anniversary, and from its humble beginnings it has
grown to become one of the most highly-respected schools.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a non-profit, independent institution and the
world’s largest university specializing in aviation and aerospace. It has residential
campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., and campuses at more than
130 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. And in a nod
towards modern learning, it also has online programs, which U.S. News & World
Report gave a No. 1 ranking.
Established in 1926 as Embry-Riddle Flying School in Cincinnati, Ohio, today it
awards associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, and is accredited by
the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Programs in aeronautics, air traffic management, applied meteorology and
aerospace studies are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
For this region and elsewhere, a key program of the school is Embry-Riddle
Worldwide. Established in 1970, Worldwide has more than 130 campuses across the
globe, with 75 on military bases.
The largest employers of Embry-Riddle graduates are the U.S. Air Force and Army,
and it also can claim six graduates as NASA astronauts.
It’s also involved in research. It’s expanded its partnership with industry in developing
the Aerospace Research and Technology Park adjacent to the Daytona Beach
In the Gulf Coast I-10 region, there are Embry-Riddle operations at Panama City-
Tyndall; Crestview; Fort Walton Beach-Eglin; Fort Walton Beach-Hurlburt Field;
Pensacola-NAS Pensacola; Milton-Whiting Field; Mobile-U.S. Coast Guard ATC; Fort
Rucker, Ala.; Biloxi-Keesler; and New Orleans-Joint Reserve Base.
It has also partnered with schools for dual enrollment programs. - David Tortorano
Condensed from the February 2016 issue of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor