By Dakota Parks for Northwest Florida's Business Climate
Pensacola has frequently been hailed the “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” due to NAS Pensacola’s important role in training not only future naval aviators but also air traffic controllers, maintainers and support technicians. As the birthplace of the first US Navy Air Station, built in 1914, Pensacola carries a long history of aviation initiatives.
Mayor Grover Robinson is working side by side with ST Engineering, adjacent to Pensacola International Airport, to expand aviation opportunities for commercial and civilian growth. Mayor Robinson even took a recent trip to Singapore to the ST Engineering headquarters during the Singapore 2020 Airshow to discuss details about the project. Project Titan is a $210 million project to fully develop and expand ST Engineering’s aviation campus.
The plans are to build three additional hangars and expand the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) facility. ST Engineering provides aircraft maintenance for Northwest Florida, including the upkeep of UPS aircraft. Not only will the project give ST additional facilities, but it will also result in nearly 1,300 new, high- paying jobs.
“Each hanger, when fully up and running, houses about 400 jobs. So, when all four hangers are up and running at full capacity, that’s easily 1,600 people. To get to 1,300 new jobs, they will have to train nearly 3,000 people. ST believes that their need for training will be higher than what George Stone Technical School alone can provide, so we are already trying to get ahead of that. I’m most excited about the opportunity for people in our community to get an education and acquire a skill that is marketable for a job here in Northwest Florida,” explained Robinson.
The project is currently in the phase of design, development and construction of the 173,000 sq. foot MRO facility. As Robinson explained, the east side of the campus will house Hangar-2, the west side will be Hangars 3-4, a warehouse, support center and administrative building. Hangar-2 is currently in the construction phase, which takes about 15 months to complete. Hangers 3-4 will take the same amount of time to complete. Robinson estimated a tertiary timeline that stretches out to 2022 or 2023.
“Projects like this one continue to expand aviation opportunities in Pensacola. We’ve always had aviation jobs, but most of them were military jobs with a small amount commercial. This is really moving us into the aviation specter that will create a significant amount of civilian jobs. We have the opportunity to build upon this and build a cluster centered around aviation. Pensacola has been focused on aviation for a long time with the military in Northwest Florida, but this is the first venture into large-scale commercial aviation progress,” said Robinson.
Since opening the MRO facility in June 2018, ST Engineering has continued to feed into local economic growth and prosperity by offering scholarships, internships and training programs for students and adults interested in pursuing the aviation industry. In 2020, ST Engineering launched the Pensacola Mayor’s Scholarship, which offers $2,500 annually to four students in the Escambia County School District accepted into an aviation-related post-secondary educational program. The scholarship is both based on financial need and academic performance.
Previous programs offered by ST Engineering included paid on-the-job training initiatives such as the Airman Trainee Program, Structures and Interior Internships and the Military Fast Track Program. Expanding their facilities in Pensacola will continue to increase the opportunities available to students pursing aviation careers.
At a recent press conference on Feb. 19 at the Pensacola International Airport, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the award of $4.8 million to Pensacola through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund for the infrastructure and expanse of the airport. The funding will provide the construction of taxi-ways, ramps and flatwork and ensure that the airport can support the additional MRO facilities.
“Pensacola has a great history in aviation. The city has been focused not only on bringing the maintenance aviation industry back to the city but also making it an international hub. The implementation of this vision began just a few years ago when VT Mobile Aerospace, the subsidiary of ST Engineering, broke ground on a 173,000 sq. foot MRO facility here in the Pensacola International Airport. The facility has demonstrated once again how valuable maintenance and repair can be to the local economy,” said DeSantis.
DeSantis also went on to explain how Florida has taken a center stage for aviation and aerospace initiatives. There are currently over 2,000 aviation and aerospace companies operating in Florida, employing over 100,000 employees. Combining military spending, commercial airport revenue and industry revenue, the Florida Department of Transportation estimated in their 2019 Statewide Economic Impact Study that the Florida aviation industry nets $175 billion in yearly economic revenue.
“There are many great things happening across the state of Florida for aviation and aerospace. If you look just over the past year, I awarded $3.9 million to the Melbourne Airport for infrastructure and development. That airport is also closely linked to the space efforts that are going on in Brevard County. We also had Spirit airlines announce that they were going to expand their Florida footprint with a $250 million investment to construct a new corporate headquarters in South Florida. United Airlines selected Tampa for a new MRO facility that will have a $30 million economic impact. We were also happy to announce, last year, the relocation of Boeing Space and Launch headquarters from Arlington, Virginia to Titusville, Florida. We also announced the relocation of Lockheed Martin’s Fleet Ballistic Missile Program Headquarters from California, also to Titusville. Then, CAE USA announced a new 290,000 sq. foot headquarters facility that will be located in Tampa international airport,” explained DeSantis.
As the aviation industry continues to expand in Florida, increased opportunities for specialized training, workforce development and direct economic impact will continue to thrive. As Project Titan approaches further stages of development, opportunities for training will emerge. At ST Engineering’s completed MRO facility, there will be job opportunities for aircraft maintenance and other disciplines including materials work, procurement, planning, finance, human resources, training and facilities.
To keep up with updates on Project Titan visit www.cityofpensacola.com/1131/VT-MAE. To find out more about ST Engineering and opportunities check out vtmae.com.