|Airport positioned well for its niche
By Tom McLaughlin
...CRESTVIEW, Fla. -- It’s been described as a place where airplanes go to die. True,
but most of them come to Bob Sikes Airport to get refurbished or modified with the
latest military gear and leave more capable than when they arrived.
...The general aviation airport is a huge success story, thriving in a region that’s
teeming with capable competition for aerospace, defense industry and small
...Tucked in the northeast corner of county seat of Crestview, the airport sits on
1,080 acres adjacent to the 360-acre Okaloosa-Crestview Industrial Airpark. It serves
commercial and military needs and is an economic driver.
...Bob Sikes Airport (CEW) may be one of the best examples of the importance of
location. Three miles northeast of the central business district of Crestview, its in one
of the fastest growing areas of Northwest Florida.
...But to the north of the airport it’s predominantly rural all the way to Alabama. The
same is true to the east with small towns dotting the area all the way to Tallahassee.
To the west of the airport is the 600-acre Blackwater River State Forest, and the
airport is close to the military’s restricted air space. Importantly, the airport is
convenient to four bases that train military aviators: Naval Air Station Whiting Field,
Naval Air Station Pensacola, Eglin Air Force Base, all in Florida, and Alabama’s Fort
Rucker, near Dothan.
...Bob Sikes Airport has an 8,005-foot runway (17/35) capable of handling the largest
aircraft in the world, including C-17s, C-5s, B-747s and the Russian AN-225.
Because the airport has an instrumented landing system (ILS), the Navy, Air Force
and Army all use it for training.
...“There is no other airport better positioned for growth than Bob Sikes,” said Tracy
Stage, a deputy airport director for Okaloosa County. “It’s a huge asset.”
...Bob Sikes Airport is part of the Okaloosa County Airports system, which includes
the commercial Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) at Eglin Air Force Base and
general aviation Destin/Fort Walton Beach Airport.
...Wayne Harris, president of the Crestview Chamber of Commerce, estimates about
$500 million in commerce flows through the airport each year.
...Bob Sikes Airport’s Fixed Base Operator is Emerald Coast Aviation, which provides
flight instruction, public amenities and full-service maintenance for all customers.
...Beyond that, the airport’s tenant list is impressive. It’s home to L-3 Crestview
Aerospace, the largest private employer in north Okaloosa County. It’s been here for
50 years under various owners, and was bought by L-3 in 2006. It does aircraft
modification, assembly and aerostructure fabrication for military, other government
and original equipment manufacturers.
...One of the largest planes to use the airport is the Air Force C-17 that brings
helicopters to L-3.
...In a recent post, one blog site for aircraft watching groupies called Bob Sikes
Airport “the latest airport where airliners go to die,” a reference to tenant Qwest Air
...The Memphis, Tenn., company buys aircraft that have outlived their usefulness,
brings them to Crestview and tears them down in a 76,000-square-foot building. The
parts are refurbished and sold. Qwest has 22 employees who strip the old airliners
down to the aluminum shells, which are also recycled to make products like beer and
...BAE Systems, among the world’s largest defense contractors, is another major
tenant at Bob Sikes Airport. Headquartered in Arlington, Va., the U.S. subsidiary of
the U.K. company is a major technical and professional service provider to the U.S.
military. At Bob Sikes Airport it performs modifications to both fixed-wing and rotary
...Another tenant is Sunshine Aero Industries (SAI) Flight Test, which provides
support for the development of advanced aircraft and aircraft systems. Established in
1980, its expertise is in avionics, fire control systems, electronic combat systems,
special mission payloads and payload integration. It has its own aircraft inventory,
including jets and prop planes.
...But not everything is aerospace.
...Harris of the chamber said Custom Productions produces component parts for
bicycles that race in the Tour de France.
...Harris said another company, Carolina Aerospace, also plans to locate at Bob
Sikes Airport. It specializes in airframe and powerplant training and would offer 8-12
...Okaloosa airport administrators have been successful convincing state and federal
agencies that the airport is worth investment dollars.
...“The Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration
have provided an incredible amount of money for infrastructure, something close to
$70 million in the last eight or nine years,” Stage said.
...Some of that money went into designing and developing an asphalt mixture that is
impervious to airplane fuel. The county won an American Association of Airport
Executives General Aviation Project of the Year award for that coup in 2010. It is the
only airport completely surfaced with the material, Stage said.
...Florida’s DOT has committed money to pave a road that will provide access to the
airport from the east side and on the west side, a thoroughfare to be dubbed The
Foy Shaw Industrial Parkway. It will carry traffic from well-traveled U.S. 90 to the
western entrance of Bob Sikes Airport.
...There are also plans to run a CSX railroad spur that parallels U.S. 90 into the
airport complex, he said, a move that Harris thinks will make the site attractive for
...All of the work and planning, Stage said, has put the airport in position to serve as
a “second or third tier supplier” for Airbus, the jetliner manufacturing giant opening
an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala.
...“There’s a 100 mile bubble we want to stay out of so nobody’s competing for
employees, and we are almost exactly 100 miles away from Mobile,” he said. “When
Airbus gets going, suppliers will be looking for a place to go.”
...Bob Sikes Airport is a good option.
...“Bob Sikes Airport is an absolute goldmine as it is equipped with an 8,000-foot
runway with an instrument landing system, aviation compatible environments
surrounding the airport, full service FBO, and hundreds of acres of land waiting to be
developed.,” said Mike Stenson, deputy director of Okaloosa County Airports.
...“There are few places in the United States that have the attributes that exist for
aviation related companies looking for start-up operations or to relocate to a more
cost effective and business conducive area such as Crestview."
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