Selex Galileo in right place to grow
If growth and a backlog of work are any indication, then Selex Galileo made a wise
decision seven years ago when it set up shop at Stennis International Airport in
South Mississippi...

By Lisa Monti
August 2015
KILN, Miss. -- For a company that works on large, loud, multi-engine military aircraft, it’
s helpful to be in a place where engines can be run at any time day or night without
any complaints from neighbors.

But that’s precisely what Selex Galileo can do at its two-hangar South Mississippi
operation located within the massive acoustical buffer zone of NASA’s Stennis Space
Center.

“We can fly at night, 24/7 all year long,” said site director Tommy Ruiz. “There are no
noise issues. I can run engines at 2 o'clock in the morning.”

And when you’re a growing operation with a backlog of business, that kind of
flexibility is a good thing.

Selex Galileo Inc. opened its aircraft modification operation in a leased hangar at
Stennis International Airport, just outside Stennis Space Center in the town of Kiln in
2008 for a contract to modify U.S. Coast Guard aircraft.

Business at the South Mississippi location has been growing ever since, and so has
its footprint at the Hancock County-owned airpark, said Ruiz.

“In 2012 we expanded and built an additional large facility capable of supporting two
cargo aircraft at the same time. More recently, we leased the new fixed base operator
hangar from the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission for some of the
smaller aircraft modifications,” Ruiz said.

“We have also custom-built a state-of-the-art support facility that is used for training
operations, as well as an emergency response center,” he said.

Selex Galileo is just one of the big aerospace companies with operations in Hancock
County. Lockheed Martin, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Rolls-Royce have facilities at
Stennis Space Center.

Italy’s Finmeccanica, one of the world’s top 10 aerospace and defense companies,
owns Selex Galileo. It’s part of Selex ES, which has major facilities in Italy and the
United Kingdom. The aircraft modification business is new to the company, which
entered into the market less than 10 years ago.

Selex Galileo’s primary focus at the Stennis International Airport/Airpark is avionics
systems integration on various types of legacy aircraft. “We put in a new radar or
sensor, or a communications system so the aircraft has increased capability to
perform whatever mission it has,” Ruiz said.

Depending on the customer’s needs, employees can perform every step of the
upgrade process, from design and manufacture to installation and testing.

“In addition, we have a state-of-the-art training facility where customers come in and
perform real-time missions,” he said. It also serves as a self-contained emergency
response center in case of hurricanes.

The airpark portion of the airport is within the acoustical buffer zone that surrounds
NASA’s Stennis Space Center. NASA acquired the land in the 1960s when the space
center was built to test Saturn V rockets for the Apollo lunar landing program.

In addition to allowing work at all hours, another benefit of the location is its
international status, which makes it convenient for foreign customers to fly in and out.

“It doesn’t have commercial traffic, just private or military aircraft, and accessibility is
good ... It’s a prime location with the county’s harbor and rail access.”

Ashley Edwards, executive director of the Hancock County Port and Harbor
Commission, said Selex Galileo is “exactly the type of high-tech aerospace industry
that we want in Hancock County,” a major asset and world leader in the maintenance,
repair and overhaul segment of the aerospace and aviation sector.

“Their presence in Hancock County has allowed us to market ourselves to other firms
who work in synergy with Selex. They have served as a central puzzle piece in our
ongoing effort to build a successful MRO cluster in Hancock County.”

Aircraft modification work can take one or two months, but some jobs can require
almost a year.

“We do about 15 aircraft a year today, but could easily handle up to 35 depending
on the size and scope of the modifications and aircraft availability,” he said.

Most of the aircraft are for military customers, but Selex has commercial customers
as well. “If it flies, I’ll work on it,” he said.

The number of technicians and engineers working at Selex fluctuates with contracts
and the scope of work. The company does not release employment numbers, but
said that most come from the Gulf Coast area.

“We have found a significant skill set in the area,” Ruiz said, “in part because of
nearby Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and neighboring Stennis Space Center.”

Ruiz said Selex works with nearby schools to develop curriculum that will help ensure
workers for the future.

“I have had numerous visits from classes from Hancock High School where we explain
what we do and what you need to learn in order to work on aircraft,” he said.

Selex often relies on the numerous local machine and fabrication shops to produce
the upgrade kits. “I’ve been surprised at the number of them in this area,” Ruiz said.
Spreading the work around helps Selex keep costs down and it provides an
economic boost to the nearby communities.

Ruiz said his current focus is providing customers the type of systems they want in
their aircraft.  “We have a nice backlog over the next couple of years, but we are
focusing now on our delivery and execution to make sure what we deliver is produced
with quality and on time,” he said.

Another challenge is keeping up with rapid changes in technology. “How fast is that
technology train moving?” he said. “The technology in this world today, especially in
the aerospace industry, is changing really on a daily basis. By the time we are
installing it, they already have options to upgrade.”

As technology continues to evolve, Selex will work to maintain its competitive edge.
“We’ve done a lot of radar and sensor modifications over the last couple of years
and in the future we are looking at upgrading cockpits to touch screen displays for
better crew comfort and awareness,” Ruiz said.

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