The week ended with one of the region's aerospace operations slapped with bad news. In Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Chromalloy Gas Turbine dropped 67 workers and said it plans to close its 30-year-old Fort Walton Beach plant in the next few months. Plans are to consolidate the Fort Walton Beach operation with one in Texas. Chromalloy inspects and repairs commercial aircraft engines.
Another long-time resident of the Fort Walton Beach area also said goodbye. The 60th Fighter Squadron of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., flew its final sortie after 37 years. The F-15 fighter squadron is part of the drawdown of the 33rd Fighter Wing. That wing is being replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program slated to arrive in 2010. Of course, that's assuming the controversy over the noise of the F-35 is resolved.
On the topic of last curtain calls, AirTran will end service to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Gulfport, Miss., on Jan. 5. The company operated under a contract with casinos, but the casinos opted not to continue the contract. The airline said the market is not viable without it. The airport said AirTran accounts for up about 25 percent of scheduled traffic.
In Mobile, Ala., Northrop Grumman executive Wes Bush paid a visit to assure Mobile and state officials – and the media – that it's still committed to moving ahead on the Air Force tanker project. The Northrop/EADS team won the contract, but Boeing's protest was upheld and the competition is on hold pending the new administration.
On another EADS-related front, governments in the Mobile area will spend $468,000 on a firefighting system to help EADS CASA with an expansion of its Mobile facility. EADS CASA, a Spanish subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., has an aircraft maintenance and training center at the Mobile airport.
In another EADS-related story, EADS North American Defense was awarded a $208.3 million contract for funding of 39 Light Utility Helicopters for the Army. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., at the company’s Eurocopter plant, and in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Rolls-Royce North America is planning to increase its engine-testing activities at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company opened its Stennis operation less than a year ago and has tested Trent 900 and 1000 engines. The next one it will take on is the BR725. By 2010 and 2011, Rolls-Royce will be testing the Trent XWB and RB282 engine. All those engines are for commercial aircraft.
In another Stennis-related story, NASA supporters in Congress fear bailouts will make it hard for a new administration to maintain the current space budget, let alone deliver on a campaign promise to speed up the Constellation Program. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are involved in space programs.
Speaking of the space program, it looks like the space program footprint in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor region is going to expand. Andrews Institute, a sports health facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla., will be teaming up with Space Florida to provide personal spaceflight medical and training programs for commercial space tourists. The idea is that there are plenty of folks lining up to fly in space, and this program is designed to provide the training they'll need.