Public-Private Partnership Lands College at Cecil Field

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

When U.S. Naval Air Station Cecil Field near Jacksonville, FL, appeared on the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure list, the area's civil airport community eventually benefited. In 1999, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) took ownership of 6,000 acres and 1.1 million square feet of building space on the 17,000-acre airfield.

As Bob Simpson, senior director of Cecil Field, recalls: "We inherited an abandoned airport."

While airport officials may have felt lonely back then, they have plenty of company today. Over the past 11 years, JAA has transformed Cecil Field into an active, forward-thinking general aviation airport. About $90 million of investments in runway and taxiway maintenance, new airfield lighting and upgraded hangars and ancillary buildings have made Cecil Field an attractive destination for government, private industry and educational institutions to set up shop.

Facts & Figures

Project: Aircraft Services Education Facility

Owner: Florida State College at Jacksonville

Location: Cecil Field, Jacksonville, FL

Size: 138,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $20 million

Funding: $10 million from the State of Florida; $10 million from Jacksonville Aviation Authority

Design & Engineering: Reynolds, Smith & Hills

General Contractor: Kenyon Corp.

Prime Tenant: Flightstar Aircraft Services

Project Details: Aircraft coating and MRO operations provided by Flightstar Aircraft Services; aircraft coating and MRO educational activities offered by Florida State College at Jacksonville

"We're fortunate," Simpson reflects. "Northeast Florida is a nice place to live and work. A lot of retired military people with aircraft maintenance experience settle in the area ... We're operating in the black now, but we roll everything back into capital improvements."

The Old College Try

In 2006, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) approached JAA about expanding its existing presence at Cecil Field with a new aircraft coating facility.

The college obtained a $10 million grant from the state, which JAA matched to fund a $20 million Aircraft Services Education Facility. Construction of the 138,000-square-foot hangar broke ground in September 2009 and was scheduled for completion in November 2010.

Originally conceived as an aircraft coating facility, the project evolved to include aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) as well. The facilities include two MRO bays, each capable of holding a B-757, and a larger coating bay that holds the equivalent of a B-767.

FSCJ partnered with Flightstar Aircraft Services, Cecil Field's largest civilian employer with 500 workers performing heavy airframe maintenance and cargo modifications. The company is leasing 106,000 square feet of the facility for MRO work and aircraft coating, and eventually plans to hire 200 more employees.

FSCJ operates out of the remaining 32,000 square feet of the hangar. Its facilities include two classrooms, a dry lab and a paint booth used to paint subassemblies and components.


This January, 14 students will begin pursuing Aircraft Coating Certificates at the new Cecil Field facility. Subsequent classes will admit 24 students. The 16-week, 600-hour program will offer classes in aircraft painting and health, aircraft structure, aircraft corrosion, paint removal systems and processes, and paint systems. Students will conclude their classroom work with 40-hour internships.

"Students will do classroom work and put in laboratory time as well as observe work in the coating bay," says Kent Campus president and interim provost Dr. Maggie Cabral-Maly. "Some students will perform internships with Flightstar and others will intern at facilities throughout the region."

A few Flightstar employees will also work as adjunct faculty.

Matt Eaton, vice president of corporate development for Flightstar, says that his company is committed to working with the school to facilitate students' learning experience.

"The plan is to provide the college with our production schedule so students can observe work that relates to their classroom studies. Provisions are also in the works for internships and apprenticeships. And, of course, there's always the possibility of job offerings in that the college will be providing a well-trained labor force."

Students enrolled in airframe power plant and mechanics classes at a nearby facility will also be able to observe and perform internships at the new MRO and coating facility.

Cecil Field Garners Commercial Spaceport License

In January 2010, the FAA issued Cecil Field a license to operate a commercial horizontal-launch spaceport. It was the eighth such license granted in the United States, and the first on the East Coast.

Cecil Field senior director Bob Simpson relates that Space Florida, an authority created by the Florida state legislature and chaired by the lieutenant governor, approached the Jacksonville Airport Authority in 2005 as a potential applicant for a spaceport license.

To be granted a license, airports must have a runway that's at least 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. Cecil Field's runway, the third longest in the state, qualified with 2,500 feet to spare, and the airfield's lack of commercial air traffic met the other main requirement. In addition, the airport provides ready access to open skies over the Atlantic Ocean.

In June, the FAA announced a new grant program to fund projects that develop and expand commercial space transportation. Jacksonville Aviation Authority received a $104,805 matching grant to develop a Spaceport Master Plan that will provide direction for business and development related to the space industry at Cecil Field.

"Now that we have our spaceport license," Simpson says, "we are out there talking to companies that either have the vision or are working on horizontal space vehicles. While we don't have a tenant yet, we are poised to respond as that sector of the aviation industry grows and matures. We're ready."

Communitywide Benefits

Cabral-Maly is excited about the project's potential for economic development in the area. "This partnership is very innovative," she says proudly, "and we believe that it's going to be a centerpiece for economic development. When you bring the public and private sectors together for education and economic development, the community benefits."

Eaton considers JAA and FSCJ ideal partners. "Everybody is working toward a common goal here," he says enthusiastically. "There are no hidden agendas. It's a unique and pleasantly refreshing project."

Reviewing the airport's growth and impact on the community over the past 11 years, Simpson foresees even more contributions in the future. "In addition to providing facilities and services to our U.S. government and military tenants, our goal is to provide facilities for companies with an aviation interest," he says. "The more facilities we build, the larger the employment base becomes. It creates jobs and incomes for people who will buy homes and shop in the community. It's good for the tax base, good for the community and good for us."

The Aircraft Services Education Facility represents another step in Cecil Field's goal to become an airport that serves the community in a unique and innovative manner.

"Stepping back and looking at this project holistically," Simpson reflects, "I think this is a great opportunity for the airport, for Flightstar and for the college. It's a unique partnership that is working out well for everyone."

General Aviation

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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