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Sikorsky expanding its Chase Field operations

While many large corporations around the world are eliminating jobs in the face of a global recession, executives at Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance are looking at expanding.

Company Vice President and General Manager George Springsteen said last week that the firm hopes to expand its projected revenue to $700 million by 2012.

The company’s field operation center at the Chase Field Industrial & Airport Complex will play a big role in achieving that plan.

“Our vision is to make the Chase Field (operations center) a world-class depot and one that we can duplicate as we grow internationally,” Springsteen said.

A global vision

The name change from Sikorsky Support Services to Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance reflects the company’s changing role in the aircraft maintenance, repair and modification business, Springsteen stressed.

“Our vision is to globalize, expanding our products and services overseas,” Springsteen said. The company already has a similar operation in Brisbane. Australia.

“Sikorsky Aerospace Services, SAM’s parent company, is consolidating its after-market services into a one-stop shop, not just for its own products but for anything that flies, and SAM will be an integral part of that expansion,” Springsteen said.

Because SAM’s primary field operation center is located at Chase Field, that is good news for Bee County.

More jobs at Chase

Already the company has about 180 people working at the 200,000-square-foot facility. Sikorsky currently has 12 helicopters undergoing repairs and modifications in Hanger 24 and seven more being worked on in Hangar 25.

Springsteen said it is possible that SAM could have as many as 500 people working at Chase Field as the company continues to expand its operation here.

Some of the contracts being performed at Chase include rewiring older “A” model Black Hawk aircraft for the National Guard, upgrading both U.S. Army and Colombian “A” model Black Hawk aircraft to the current “L” model configuration and refurbishing eight Egyptian VIP UH-60 aircraft.

On the component side, SAM is repairing U.S. and Australian Navy stabilizers for their Sea Hawk aircraft and tail rotor pylons for the Coast Guard.

A shop building located between the two hangars has been expanded to include a parts warehouse and another 7,200-foot expansion of that building is planned for the near future at a cost of $396,000.

Bee Development Authority Executive Director Joe B. Montez said the BDA has received grant funds from the Governor’s Military Preparedness Commission and local matching funds from the Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation to finance that expansion.

Facilities expansion

Grant money from the governor’s office also will allow the BDA to build a new $300,000 paint booth for the SAM operation, remodel the fire station at a cost of $100,000 and repaint the exterior of the two large hangars the company leases at Chase.

Montez said he is hoping the EIC will authorize an additional $325,000 grant to the BDA to provide the remainder of the local matching funds that will be needed to complete the expansion of the warehouse building.

Montez said the BDA had budgeted $100,000 to paint the hangars but bids for the work came in at more than twice that amount. Then the BDA board gave Montez the authority to rent painting equipment, hire local unemployed people and have BDA personnel oversee the project.

The BDA also plans to use a $1.25 million stipend from Dan A. Hughes Management, L.L.C. to finance extensive runway improvements, including runway lighting so that fixed-wing aircraft can make night takeoffs and landings at Chase.

Montez said the runway improvements will allow Sikorsky’s customers to bring helicopters here on large, fixed-wing cargo planes.

Construction is expected to begin soon on a new Hughes hangar near the airport’s control tower.

‘We love it here’

Springsteen, Greg Kay of Kay and Associates, Sikorsky executive Joe Coleman and SAM site manager Rich Finch all expressed their appreciation for the Chase Field facilities.

“We love it here,” Springsteen said. “We love the facilities. We love the BDA. We love the people and the support from the community.”

The people have made an impression on Sikorsky because a significant number of the staff at Chase comes from this community. Springsteen also expressed appreciation for the job that Kay and Associates has been doing in hiring personnel for the operation and handling much of the daily business.

“Since we moved in here we’ve grown faster than we planned,” Springsteen said. Much of that growth came after the company moved its Jacksonville, Fla., operations to Chase. Only 24 of the company’s Jacksonville management staff made the move to Beeville. The rest have been hired locally.

Planning for the future

With a new air frame and engine mechanic program being offered by Coastal Bend College, an increasing number of area residents are expected to become qualified for top-paying jobs here. Classes for the program are being held on the second floor of one of the hangars.

Springsteen said the hangars are the best place for the classrooms because students can get hands-on instruction and the experience of working on the equipment that comes through the SAM facility.

“We’d like to see a program at the high school level as well so we can develop a home-grown work force,” Springsteen said. “Pretty soon we’ll need more space, need to expand to a third hangar.”

The nature of Sikorsky’s operation here gives its employees a chance to see some of the rest of the world. Last week SAM had crews from Chase working in South America, Norfolk, Va., and Cape Cod, Mass.

The company also hopes to expand its role in repairing fixed-wing aircraft components. Currently the company is rebuilding wings for the Navy’s T-34 training aircraft from NAS Corpus Christi. Personnel here are replacing the main support beam on those wings.

“We want to go commercial as well,” Springsteen said of the fixed-wing repair operation. “We’re working on getting our FAA certifications.”

With corporate and military budgets shrinking, Sikorsky believes its plans for expanding its depot maintenance capabilities will bring increased business for the company. And much of that business will be coming to Chase Field and Bee County, he noted.

by Gary Kent and Chip Latcham