|Keeping 'em flying still big business
It’s a far cry from the days when the Naval Aviation Depot had thousands of workers,
but aircraft maintenance continues to be a multimillion-dollar business in the
Pensacola metropolitan area...
By Duwayne Escobedo
When discussions turn to aerospace and aviation jobs, it’s the headline-grabbing
newcomers that get attention: Airbus in Mobile, VT MAE in Pensacola, SpaceX in
But in the Pensacola metropolitan area, the Navy remains the oldest, most consistent
creator of civilian aviation jobs going back to the dawn of naval aviation itself. Today,
the handful of defense contractors who maintain the Navy’s large fleet of training
aircraft at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field provide at
least 800 jobs in the metro area.
“About 20 percent of jobs in the metro area are government jobs, and about 80
percent are tied to the military,” said John Hutchinson, president of Pensacola’s
Community Economic Development board.
Structure engineers, aircraft mechanics, ground support equipment workers, rotary
wing mechanics, sheet metal workers and more have plenty of work ensuring the
Navy’s ubiquitous orange and white trainers remain airworthy. And that’s no small
NAS Whiting Field in Milton is the busiest air station in the world, according to the
Navy. Whiting logs over 160,000 flight hours per year, representing 14 percent of
USN flight hours. The more than 250 aircraft and 1,200 students are responsible for
a staggering 1.5 million flight operations each year, well beyond the 970,000 annual
flight operations at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport.
The Pensacola metro area had even more of these jobs in the past, thanks to the
sprawling Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) at NAS Pensacola. It employed thousands
of civil service, military and contract workers involved in aircraft maintenance and
repair, not only of aircraft from this region but those that flew in from other locations.
But in 1993 the largest industrial complex with some 2,600 workers at that time was
shut down as a result of base realignment and closures. The site was taken over by
the Naval Air Technical Training Center, which moved from Memphis, Tenn., as a
result of the same closure round.
Although NADEP is gone, the Navy still required a local workforce to keep the aircraft
from the two training bases flying. Now the job falls to defense contractors that
compete on a regular basis for the multimillion-dollar Defense Department contracts.
The current Navy contract holders are DynCorp International, Sikorsky, L-3 Vertex
and Rolls-Royce. Combined they are working contracts for the Chief of Naval Air
Training valued at more than $200 million, though not all of the work is done in this
Pinning down just how many workers are involved is a bit difficult, in part because of
competitive pressures. But one contractor, DynCorp International, said it has 400
workers. But that’s just one company. The International Association of Machinists and
Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 2777 would only say it represents 800 workers at
NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field.
What’s unusual about the arrangement is that a technician who works for one
company today might have worked for another company a few years earlier when
another company held the contract. By the same token, a few years down the road
they might be employed by a new contractor. That arrangement means experience is
not lost even with a new contractor.
They certainly have their work cut out for them. Whiting field has over 250 aircraft,
including fixed-wing T-6B Texan IIs and TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopters. NAS
Pensacola has about 130 aircraft, including fixed-wing T-45C Goshawks, T-6A Texan
IIs, T-39 Sabreliners; T-1A Jayhawks; F/A-18 Hornets and KC-130F Hercules. The
only aircraft that is not maintained by defense contractors are the Blue Angels
aircraft at NAS Pensacola’s Sherman Field. That work is handled exclusively by Navy
DynCorp International in October 2014 won an $83.4 million contract to support and
maintain nearly 400 aircraft primarily at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, NAS Whiting
Field and NAS Pensacola. The work in Florida is on the single-engine T-6 Texan II
aircraft. The one-year contract has up to four, one-year options with a potential value
of $443.3 million.
For DynCorp International, winning the contract greatly enhanced the company’s
Navy market share, which company vice president James Myles described as a “key
“DynCorp International has been a trusted partner to the U.S. Navy for more than 40
years, a tradition we will build on with this new work,” said Myles. “We take pride in
serving our Navy customers and supporting their vital training missions.”
In addition to DynCorp International, in September 2014 the Naval Air Systems
Command in Patuxent River, Md., also awarded a $19.1 million contract modification
to Sikorsky Support Services to bridge the gap between the Sikorsky and DI.
George Mitchell, Vice President, Aircraft & Support for Sikorsky's Defense Systems &
Services business, said his company prides itself in its “world-class” support of
CNATRA and the Naval Air Training Command during the past seven years.
"Our outstanding workforce delivered exceptional performance, meeting the Navy's
stringent requirements," Mitchell said. "In fact, for the last year aircraft availability
exceeded our contractual specifications."
In addition, the Naval Air Systems Command in September 2014 awarded a $12
million contract to L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace to support and maintain the
Navy’s training aircraft, primarily in Pensacola.
In late March 2015, Rolls-Royce was awarded a $93.6 million contract to maintain the
T-45 F405-RR-401 Ardour engines. Most of the work will be done in Meridian, Miss.,
but about 6 percent will be done at NAS Pensacola.
What is interesting for Pensacola is that while it lost an industrial complex, it got in its
place a military training complex that’s training the aviation technicians who may one
day return to the region to work on the same aircraft, but in a civilian capacity.
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