It did one’s heart good last week to see the parking lots filled with employees’ vehicles and witness the return of 180 jobs and operations to the massive hangars, with aircraft rewiring and repair operations being performed there.
In all, 19 total helicopters were being worked on in the two hangars. And it was not just military aircraft, but also commercial, and from all over the world — Colombia, Egypt — in addition to U.S. National Guard Black Hawks, Border Patrol helicopters and parts for Navy Sea Hawks and repairs for fixed-wing T-34 training aircraft from NAS Corpus Christi.
George Springsteen, vice president and general manager of Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance (formerly Sikorsky Support Services), led the tour of Chase operations. Also present were Joe Coleman and Rich Finch of SAM, Greg Kay, president of Kay and Associates, and Joe B. Montez, Bee Development Authority executive director.
Springsteen was effusive in his praise for the local organization. After Sikorsky moved operations here from Jacksonville, Fla., “it is growing faster than we predicted,” he said. Beeville’s Chase Field is the company’s primary field operation center.
“We love the facilities. We love the BDA, love the people and support from the community,” he said, adding that the base’s uncluttered airspace, room to expand operations and great weather are other valuable assets, just as they were when “Chase set the pace” as the Navy’s top training flight facility.
“Our new push is to globalize,” Springsteen said, “expanding products and services overseas.” Thus the name change to SAM, which also has similar operations in Australia.
The company is projecting to grow to a $700 million international operation, and “Chase Field is a big part of that.”
“We have 180 employees currently, and could easily see upwards of 500 people” working at Chase, he added.
Jobs at the local facility pay from about $13 to $30 an hour, depending on the employee’s level of skills and experience, they said. That will mean a strong infusion of capital to the local economy if Chase and the BDA are able to accommodate Sikorsky’s expansion plans.
Looking around at the crowded hangar facilities, Springsteen added, “Pretty soon we will need more space, need to expand to a third hangar.”
Again, it should be noted that Sikorsky is providing various services and different contracts, not just military. So if one area of the nation’s economy changes, such as a cutback in military operations in Iraq, there will still be a need to repair rotary or fixed-wing aircraft at the Chase facilities.
It appears that Sikorsky is making a long-term commitment to expand operations and employ more than twice as many workers in high-paying aircraft mechanical repair positions. When added to the recent Dan A. Hughes Co. hangar project announcement, runway and facility improvements at Chase and coordinated aircraft mechanic classes with Coastal Bend College, economic development efforts here could soar to unprecedented heights.
We thank Sikorsky and Kay officials and the BDA for their vision for the future in Bee County, which should be a profitable venture for both their companies and others to make best use of our county’s most valuable asset — aviation-related industry.