|VT MAE and the collaboration card
The new MRO operation being built in Pensacola could wind up being for more
important for the growth of the aerospace sector than some might think...
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- With construction now under way on a new $46 million
maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, a hint about what the future may hold for
the VT MAE operation at Pensacola International Airport can be found in Mobile, Ala.
VT MAE, a long-time fixture of the Mobile Aeroplex, a few months ago entered an
agreement with paint experts MAAS Aviation to provide that service to VT MAE
customers in Mobile, and VT MAE services to MAAS customers. It helps both
companies by expanding their offerings.
And the same type of mutually beneficial partnerships could eventually occur in
Pensacola as well with a range of additional services outside VT MAE’s core offerings
About 100 invited guests were on hand in late October for the groundbreaking of the
VT MAE hangar on 19 acres at Pensacola International Airport. Construction got
under way a few days later and will be finished in February 2018. The plant will have
about 400 workers.
“We’re here, and it’s going to get bigger, it’s going to get better,” said retired Gen.
John G. Coburn, chairman and CEO, VT Systems Inc., and chairman of VT MAE.
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said the project was nearly five years in the
making. While he admitted being an impatient man, he said he’s learned that some
things are worth the wait.
The four-acre hangar will be larger than the nearby Pensacola airport terminal itself.
“Economic development is about allowing your children to have a place to work, that
if they want to stay in Pensacola they can stay in Pensacola,” said Bentina Terry of
Gulf Power, noting that VT MAE will help diversify the local economy. “Economic
development is about family.”
Dr. Judy Bense, president of the University of West Florida, said the school
developed programs where it knew the market would come back. Engineering,
including software, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering, are some of
“This provides an opportunity to keep our educated citizens here in Florida,” she said.
VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, part of ST Engineering of Singapore, has about
900,000 square feet of space and more than 1,000 workers at its MRO in Mobile,
where it’s been since 1991.
VT MAE can accommodate eight wide-body and 10 narrow-body aircraft at the
Mobile Aeroplex, which is also home to the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility and a
growing list of Airbus suppliers.
The company’s expertise is in modifications and engineering services. It has
redelivered more than 4,000 aircraft to major passenger and freight airlines.
The agreement between VT MAE and MAAS Aviation in Mobile might be indicative for
what could happen in Pensacola. But it’s still early in the game.
“We haven’t explored it yet,” said Bill Hafner, president of VT MAE, but he said the
company will be looking into it. It’s a way to bring in expertise that’s not a part of VT
MAE’s core competencies.
Hafner said the new relationship with MAAS in Mobile is symbiotic. MAAS, based in
Dublin, Ireland, has paint operations in the Netherlands and Germany, and opened
its first paint shop at the Aeroplex in February 2016.
At the same time it broke ground on a twin bay MRO paint shop capable of
accommodating all aircraft types up to a Boeing 757. It’s scheduled to open in the
first quarter of 2017 and will provide services to OEM, MRO and potentially military
“That’s an area of specialty now, if you look at the new coating systems and the
requirement, they’re very complex, they’re very high-tech, there’s a lot of
environment concerns in their use and application,” he told the Gulf Coast Reporters’
League after the October groundbreaking.
“It’s not an area we profess to have expertise in, so we want to partner with the best.
MAAS in that field is known to be the best,” he said.
“Those are the kind of people we want to have an association with so we’re co-
marketing and working with each other to bring them work and they’re bringing us
work and we think it’s great.
“Could that work in Pensacola? You bet it could. To be honest we haven’t explored it
yet but we’re going to be looking at it.”
VT MAE is looking at other symbiotic relationships beyond the one with MAAS
Aviation. VT MAE has entered into agreements with people who work in the supply
side. Rather than becoming better at managing inventory, the company is working
with inventory experts now.
Hafner has a great deal of faith in the future of aerospace in Mobile, Pensacola and
the greater Gulf Coast region.
“This is where it’s at.”
An alumnus of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, Hafner is part of its advisory
council for curriculum and was in Pittsburgh before the groundbreaking for an annual
He said that in his talks to students and the school, he pointed out that the Southeast
is where a lot of heavy maintenance is going on and where a lot of the supply chain
has moved, whether they’re involved in manufacturing or repair. Students were highly
interested, he said.
Coburn during his address said that the groundbreaking was a continuation of a
partnership that started a while ago, “and there were bumps in the road, there are
always bumps in the road to make good things happen.”
He praised the community’s leaders for being visionary and progressive. He pointed
out that “Nothing happens unless someone makes it happen.”
The retired general ended his presentation with a tongue-in-cheek comment about
how some of the people involved in getting the project going will remember it years
“I predict that it will be a long, enduring productive partnership, and as the years go
by those of you who contributed anything,” said Coburn, “you will become more
convinced that you did it all.”
He envisioned a future conversation participants will have with their grandchildren or
great grandchildren as going something like this: “You see all those hangars? I did
that,” he said, adding, “And you may even start to believe it.”
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