Huntsville’s expertise in aerospace and missile defense has always been on full exhibit for visitors to Huntsville International Airport.
Now, thanks to a partnership between the airport and Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur, travelers will be greeted by artistic expressions of Alabama’s rich Southern culture and breathtaking landscapes created by artists from across the Tennessee Valley.
Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr joined Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker and Carnegie Visual Arts Center Executive Director Kim Mitchell for the unveiling of two inspirational art galleries at the airport.
The Airport Artway is on the second floor of the airport terminal, directly above the airline ticket counters and baggage claim.
The opening exhibit is entitled, “Friends and Family of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.” The gallery features of work from 15 local artists in a variety of mediums from traditional paintings and sculpture to mixed media.
The art gallery can be viewed anytime free of charge and will welcome new works every quarter.
“Huntsville International Airport is pleased to partner with Carnegie Visual Arts Center on our brand-new Airport Artway and Community Art Wall,” said Tucker. “We are excited to utilize our facility to continue to allow people from all over the world to experience a part of our community while visiting HSV.
“We are hopeful that this will encourage them to stay a little longer, come back and visit again, or take a piece of North Alabama home when they go.”
The airport also unveiled a Community Art Wall in the breezeway connecting the airport to the parking garage on the second level.
This quarter, the Community Art Wall is featuring a series entitled “Therapy Through Art.” It features art created through the Carnegie Center’s outreach program with its partner, the Mental Health Center of North Alabama. The artists in this series were students of the late Jason “JBird” Sharp, a well-respected Decatur artist.
“The Carnegie Visual Arts Center is excited to partner with the Huntsville International Airport to showcase local artists and community outreach programs like the Mental Health Association art therapy program,” said Mitchell. “This is a great opportunity to share with everyone the growing art community in our region.”
The airport will host artist receptions each quarter when a art series is unveiled.
Based on current voting tallies, Huntsville International Airport is in second place in the USA Today 10 Best Reader’s Choice 2020 Small Airports in the U.S. – and voters have through Jan. 13 to help Huntsville pull out a win.
You can vote daily: https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-small-airport/huntsville-international-airport-huntsville-ala/ and are encouraged to share the voting link via social media as often and with as many people as possible.
Jana Kuner, public relations manager at Huntsville International Airport, said there are more reasons to vote than just showing support for the airport – it can draw the attention of more potential carriers, and make pricing more competitive, resulting in lower fares
“This vote is really more about getting the attention of the airlines that we are working with each and every day,” said Kuner. “It’s important for customers to know the airport doesn’t set the fares. The airlines charge what the market will bear and we have seen fares continue to become more competitive over the last few years due to new carriers joining our market like Frontier.
“If you want to help us attract even more new carriers like Southwest Airlines, then voting for us as the number one small airport in the U.S. will make the airlines take notice. Our Air Service Development team will continue to work with existing and new carriers to encourage them to bring more service and competition to the market.”
Twenty small airports across the U.S. have been nominated for the award and voting has been going on for nearly four weeks.
USA Today’s 10Best.com averages 5 million visitors per month and provides a variety of travel content, top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for the top destinations in the U.S. and around the world.
It’s all about turning out the vote – not for elected office, but for choosing Huntsville International Airport as the Best Small Airport in the United States.
Historically popular with business travelers and more recently with vacation travelers because it is small and easy to navigate, Huntsville International Airport has been nominated by USA Today as one of its 10 Best Reader’s Choice 2020 Small Airports in the U.S.
Through Jan. 13, visit https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-small-airport/huntsville-international-airport-huntsville-ala/ to cast your vote.
Twenty small airports across the U.S. have been nominated by a panel of travel experts, including editors at USA Today. HSV is the only airport from Alabama nominated. The top 10 will be announced Jan. 17.
The voting is digital at USA Today’s standalone travel website, 10Best.com. Voters can vote daily and are encouraged to share the voting link via social media as often and with as many people as you wish.
“We want to show the rest of the country that there is a great airport in North Alabama, and we want to draw attention to our region as a whole,” said Jana Kuner, public relations manager at Huntsville International Airport. “HSV is proud to be a part of this community. We serve the best of the best in the country with folks flying in and out every day … Our community continuing to be nominated for honors like this proves that we have something very special here.”
The airport has an onsite hotel and a range of food and beverage options.
“Huntsville International Airport has typically been known as primarily a business airport connecting our region to the world,” said Katie Martz, the airport’s business development specialist. “With the addition of ultra, low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines starting non-stop service to Orlando and Denver last year, leisure travel from Huntsville has become more affordable and has been growing as well.
“HSV has seen 22 consecutive months of passenger growth, with 19 of those boasting double-digit increases. This has also resulted in fares that are much more competitive. We are grateful for our community’s support and attribute our recent success to them,” she said.
USA Today’s 10Best.com averages 5 million visitors per month and provides a variety of travel content, top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for the top destinations in the U.S. and around the world.
Polaris just made a big statement about its intent to expand its commercial, industrial and government customer-base from Huntsville.
It comes in the form of a new 275,000 square-foot Polaris Commercial and Government Up-fit Center and storage facility in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport.
“The Polaris Huntsville Upfit Center provides the capacity, quality controls and lean manufacturing process flow to meet increasing sales demand for our commercial and government customers for many years to come,” said Aaron Luoma, director of operations for Polaris in Huntsville. “Safety is the key priority at the upfit center as we strive to make Polaris a ‘best place to work’ and live up to an unwavering commitment to our employees.”
Upfitting consists of modifying vehicles from their standard retail packages at the plant, to “fit” the specifications of their customers, such as military, public safety and commercial.
The new state-of-the-art facility is equipped with two up-fit lines for the installation and customization of more than 10,000 possible accessories, including cabs, vehicle protection, safety components, and storage accessory vehicles for the Polaris Ranger, Pro XD and RZR commercial vehicles.
The new Polaris Upfit Center has six dedicated work bays, a multistation uplift line, staging, an enhanced post-production quality process, and warehouse space.
Located less than five miles from the 600,000 square-foot Polaris Huntsville manufacturing facility that opened in 2016, the Jetplex site helps facilitate easier shipping across the United States.
There are 28 technicians at the plant who began upfitting vehicles in May.
Huntsville is one of six state airports to receive $14,344,107 in grants through the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund and federal appropriations. Shelby is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which authors and advances FAA and DOT funding legislation and the money is distributed based on entitlement and discretionary awards.
Huntsville will receive $10,426,057 to rehabilitate a runway and an apron (tarmac and ramp), to reconstruct taxiway lighting and airfield guidance signs, and to rehabilitate and construct a taxiway.
“We are grateful to Senator Shelby for his continued contributions to our industry and, specifically, for his support of this funding which will be used for needed improvements to Taxiway E that is parallel to our 10,000 foot east runway,” said Airport CEO Rick Tucker. “The east runway is the second longest runway in the Southeast and impacts not only our passenger and cargo operation in Huntsville, but this entire region of the country since we often receive diversions from other airports.”
Tucker said the improvements are necessary to ensure both runways remain operational to help continue economic development in North Alabama.
“Huntsville was recognized as the fastest-growing metro area in Alabama and is on track to become the state’s largest city in the next five years” said Dr. Carl J. Gessler Jr., chairman of the airport board. “In the past decade, more than half of the jobs in the state have been created in Huntsville so, as our city grows, it is imperative for the airport’s infrastructure to be able to keep up.”
The work is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.
Today, a delivery for Huntsville’s aerospace industry.
Tomorrow, overly large, very heavy crucial parts and pieces for Alabama’s growing automotive manufacturing industry.
As North Alabama’s automotive manufacturing industry takes off, so are heavy air freight cargo planes likely to soar in and out of the Port of Huntsville’s intermodal cargo center – and we mean really, really big birds such as the Russian Antonov 124, the second largest commercial cargo plane in the world.
In recent weeks, an Antonov sat for the first time alongside Panalpina’s Boeing 747–8 freighter at Huntsville International Airport.
While Panalpina operates Boeing 747-8 contour freighters out of Huntsville four times a week on a fixed schedule, the Antonov provides ad hoc flights on demand from Point A to Point B from just about anywhere in the world. At least, up until now, it only flies into Huntsville a couple times a year for special, overly large deliveries, primarily for the aerospace industry.
Matthias Frey, senior vice president and global head of the Panalpina Charter Network, said that is about to change.
“Manufacturing is among Panalpina’s most important industry verticals,” he said. “Automotive has become a growing priority for us in the state of Alabama and we expect it to get even bigger as they begin installing the assembly lines at the Mazda Toyota plant, and as automobiles begin rolling off that line.”
Frey said Panalpina’s Alabama delegation foresee a growing need for heavy cargo and air freight, especially in Huntsville and Mobile, and he said there is a need for all types of cargo aircraft to accomplish it.
“When you look, for instance at Amazon, their U.S. network uses the Boeing 767 because, although they ship tens of thousands of parcels, most of them are relatively small and stackable and they require speed,” he said.
Panalpina’s 747-8 is a stretch 747 that allows for higher cargo capacity and is a workhorse for standard heavy cargo.
“If you are talking about pharmaceuticals, engines, and mechanical parts, then normally you would go to a Boeing 747-8 like Panalpina,” Frey said.
However, the Antonov’s substantially wider body, significantly higher overhead clearance, and hinged nose opens upward for front cargo loading. Built for paradropping and cargo-handling equipment, it is also equipped with two traveling cranes, two winches, a rollgang shifting device and tiedown equipment.
Aircraft and cargo specialists compare it to the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, but it has a 25 percent higher transportation capability.
“If you are moving something tall, wide and exceptionally heavy like large machinery and components, especially if you need a wider berth or a crane and winch for loading, then you are more likely to need the Antonov with its front-loading capability,” Frey said.
In 2018, the Panalpina Charter Network set a record with more than 1 million tons in air freight volume, according to a recent press release. The company expects the air freight market to grow by about 3 percent this year, with aerospace, perishables, and, now, automotive expected to be the biggest areas of growth.
Navistar, which has an engine plant in Huntsville, will expand its operations here with the addition of a gear box and engine manufacturing facility.
The Huntsville City Council approved an agreement with the company for the $125 million plant that will create some 145 jobs. Navistar employs 126 workers at its diesel engine plant near Huntsville International Airport. The new facility will be adjacent to the engine plant.
“The Huntsville facility is an important part of Navistar’s manufacturing footprint, and we look forward to the new opportunities this investment allows,” said Lyndi McMillan, Navistar’s director of business communications. “This proposed expansion would increase the company’s capacity to continue to build its International A26 engine as well as produce its next-generation big-bore diesel engines in Alabama.”
Construction is expected to start next year with completion scheduled for December 2021. It will begin operations by the end of September 2022, according to the agreement.
Since the launch of the International Space Station some 20 years ago, the idea of space, especially low-Earth orbit, has been as one big start-up business.
With Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft jumping into the commercial resupply mission lane, the whole commercialization of space concept got very interesting for Huntsville.
If all goes as planned, the busy little Dream Chaser spacecraft will make its maiden landing at the Huntsville International Airport in 2023. It will be the first and only commercial airport licensed by the FAA for a spaceplane landing. The only other designated landing site will be Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“There is a whole new business going on up there and people who create NASA policy like the idea of the commercialization of space,” said Lee Jankowski, senior director of Business Development for Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville. He is also the program manager for the $1 million project to obtain two special FAA licenses so the Dream Chaser spacecraft can land at Huntsville International Airport.
If this sounds far-fetched, that’s what Jankowski thought too, five years ago.
While known for the business of rocketry and propulsion. Huntsville also contributes to other areas of space exploration, such as payload science analysis, operations, and integration.
Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville has handled all science payload operations for the Space Shuttle missions for nearly 20 years. The company has a Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center and the contract was renewed to manage resupply efforts and payloads to the International Space Station.
“TBE and our subcontractors understand how to plan out the science while it’s onboard; how to train for it; how to execute it; and how to get it back down to Earth to maximize its scientific return,” said Jankowski. “With the shuttle program, Teledyne Brown planned one- or two-week missions that occurred three or four times a year.
“With the space station, we are up there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of science.”
Jankowski believes there is a compelling story to be told for why landing the Dream Chaser in Huntsville makes sense.
“There are two different mission sets or two different orbits for Huntsville to consider,” he said. “Let’s say we have a mission that goes up from Kennedy, resupplies the space station and, when it comes down, lands in Huntsville.”
This is not an implausible scenario, he said, because the Marshall Space Flight Center has a lot of hardware flying around up there that needs to be returned.
The second mission set would be going back to Spacelab-type payload missions. Many Huntsville entities such as Marshall and HudsonAlpha already have payloads. Why not plan a return mission that is more North Alabama-centric?
A standalone Huntsville payload mission landing here carrying specimens, hardware, or other science can be immediately offloaded from the space vehicle and delivered pronto to the scientists, universities, and companies in this area.
So Many Possibilities
Most of the early missions will be unmanned and flown autonomously but the Dream Chaser was originally designed for a crew of at least six. The interior has been modified to better accommodate supply runs to the space station, but Sierra Nevada is still focused on getting a U.S. astronaut back to the space station on a U.S. vehicle.
“A Dream Chaser landing capability here opens up so many possibilities,” Jankowski said. “Exposure to cutting-edge concepts and, let’s say we only get one landing. We are looking at job growth. We will need processing facilities and manpower to build, operate and integrate payloads.”
For the third straight year, the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored a European Space Agency competition, seeking applications for the Dream Chaser that would land in Huntsville.
“The Space Exploration Masters competition with the European Space Agency and our partner, Astrosat, a Scottish space services company, has given us a world stage for promoting our space, science and technology ecosystem,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “The competition has helped us raise the international profile of Huntsville not only as the home of the Saturn V and the space shuttle, but also as the space science operations center for the International Space Station and the ongoing rocket and propulsion capital for SLS and Blue Origin.”
Five years ago, Jankowski approached Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway on how to acquire study money to determine if such a pursuit was feasible and if the airport could handle the unique spacecraft’s landing.
Haraway; County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; then-Madison Mayor Troy Trulock; Cape; and the Port of Huntsville leadership, all pulled together $200,000 in public funds to conduct a six-month feasibility study.
“The Chamber’s role in economic development includes working with local leaders and companies to position ourselves for optimal growth,” said Cape. “We’ve identified Huntsville’s space science and payload expertise as a key asset in the emerging space economy.
“Landing the Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport would create new opportunities for local companies as well as new capabilities for our research and development community.”
HSV Runway Testing
“In 2015, Huntsville International Airport did a landing site study (to determine) the feasibility and compatibility of landing future space vehicles (specifically the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser),” said Kevin Vandeberg, director of operations at Huntsville International Airport.
The main issue was whether the skid plate on the front of Dream Chaser would seriously damage the asphalt runway. Dream Chaser lands on its back two wheels but does not have a front landing tire. Instead, the nose drops down on a skid plate to bring the vehicle to a halt.
Using heavy equipment travelling at a high rate of speed, Morell Engineering tests showed a vehicle the size of Dream Chaser would be going so fast, it would do only minimal damage to the runway, never digging into the asphalt or rutting. Sierra Nevada shipped in a real skid plate for the test and it passed with flying colors.
They also conducted preliminary environmental assessments to measure the effects of the mild sonic boom the landing will trigger, and whether it will impact nearby explosive materials.
“In January 2016, the Airport Authority received the report on the findings of the study from Morell Engineering,” said Vandeberg. “It confirmed that little structural damage is expected to occur during the landing of Dream Chaser on the airport’s asphalt runway. Upon review of this report, Huntsville International Airport determined that we would move forward with the FAA license application process.”
The $1 Million Phase II Engineering Analysis
There are two applications required by the FAA to be considered a landing designation for Dream Chaser. Huntsville International must apply for a license to operate a re-entry site. Sierra Nevada must submit an application for a license for “Re-entry of a Re-entry Vehicle Other Than a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).”
“We are currently in the middle of a 2½-year engineering analysis in which we have subcontractors based at Kennedy Space Center doing most of the analyses,” said Jankowski. “Huntsville is taking a backseat to Kennedy because NASA is paying the Kennedy Space Center to do most of the required analyses. If you look at the launch schedule, Kennedy is one to two months ahead of Huntsville. Sierra Nevada gave us a heads-up to be patient and let Kennedy go first so a lot of the generic analysis needed is paid for, keeping our $1 million investment intact.”
The airport is scheduled to submit the first application to the FAA in December and the second application next January. However, the NASA buzz is that it will likely slip four or five months, and the Chamber has warned about recent proposed changes to space launch and landing permits at the federal level that could impact plans.
Altogether, it puts them a year away from final submission.
Community Engagement & Legislative Support
“We have engaged some amazing people like Congressman Mo Brooks, Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, and Gov. Kay Ivey,” said Jankowski. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; past-NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden; William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA; and Kirk Shireman, manager of the ISS Program, are all familiar with Huntsville’s FAA status.”
“The Chamber has been actively marketing Huntsville as a landing site through local partner workshops, presentations to local industry groups and the Alabama Space Authority,” said Cape. “We also have the sponsorship of an international competition seeking ideas for using the Dream Chaser to further space exploration and economic development.
The United Nations Factor
There is an even bigger business storyline in the making – Sierra Nevada is in negotiations with the United Nations.
A couple of years ago, the company sent out a Call For Interest among U.N. members, asking if they have any potential payloads or science to fly on a two-week Dream Chaser mission.
Expecting 40 or 50 responses, Sierra Nevada received close to 175. The United Nations is working with Sierra Nevada to potentially launch missions that help Third World nations.
And Jankowski said everything is on schedule so far.
“From the day Huntsville International Airport submits the application, the FAA reserves up to 180 days to approve the license,” he said. “Once they get their license, there will be 1½-year lead-time before NASA says, ‘Huntsville has both of their FAA licenses in hand. They want a mission.’
“After that, the soonest we could get on the manifest is, I think, about 20 months, so we are probably still looking at being about 3½ years out.”
But, as everyone knows, in the realm of the business of space, that day will be here before we know it.
Beginning in June, American Airlines will offer more early morning and evening flight options for passengers traveling direct from Huntsville to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Customers in Huntsville will have the opportunity to make one stop in Dallas/Fort Worth to travel to places such as Dublin and Munich, where American is launching seasonal service for the first time in June.
“We are very excited that American made the decision to add service to the Huntsville market and we know that our customers will appreciate more options and will utilize this service,” said airport Board Chairman Dr. Carl J. Gessler Jr.
While airport officials recognize the benefits of the added service, they are quick to point out that continued growth will require the support of the community.
“These additions are another step to provide all of the citizens of the Tennessee Valley more air travel options and phenomenal savings,” said airport Executive Director Rick Tucker. “American sees potential in Huntsville’s market, and we are glad they chose to expand their presence (here).
“This is great news and if the business community and our residents support our local airport we will all enjoy more air travel options with guaranteed lower fares.”
For more information or to make reservations, visit aa.com. Reservations can also be made at no additional charge using the Huntsville Hot Ticket Hot Line service by calling 256-258-1944, Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.