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Huntsville International Airport Awarded $10.4M Grant

Huntsville International Airport has been awarded a $10.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for infrastructure improvements, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby announced.

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.

 

From Rockets to Autos: Panalpina Expects to See More Use for the Giant Antonov 124

Today, a delivery for Huntsville’s aerospace industry.

Tomorrow, overly large, very heavy crucial parts and pieces for Alabama’s growing automotive manufacturing industry.

Workers show the huge space available to fly cargo in the giant Antonov-124. (Eric Schultz / Huntsville Business Journal)

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.

The giant Antonov-124 has a 25 percent higher transportation than the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy (Eric Schultz / Huntsville Business Journal)

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 to make $125M expansion here; add 145 jobs

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.

Navistar’s International A26 engine built in Huntsville.
(Navistar Photo)

“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.

Huntsville, Sierra Nevada Chasing the Dream of Space-based Business

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.

Sierra Nevada rendering shows Dream Chaser docked with International Space Station

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.”

Huntsville’s Story

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?

Sierra Nevada rendering shows projects being offloaded from Dream Chaser on the runway.

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.

American Airlines Increases Service at Huntsville International

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.

Large Turnout for Airport Planning Presentation

There was a solid, enthusiastic turnout Tuesday when the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority presented its long-range master plan.

Business leaders and the public reviewed the colorful architectural renderings and learned more about the components of facility’s plans for future expansion. 

The audience was encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions. As an incentive, everyone who submitted an idea for airport enhancements, upgrades, or improvements qualified for entry in a random drawing for a $500 flight voucher.

The overarching goal of the airport master plan is to present a long-range strategic direction that’s consistent with the airport’s mission: To provide quality multimodal transportation services to its diverse regional customer base and to stimulate economic growth and development of the Tennessee Valley Region.

In October 2016, the airport authority began developing the master plan. The initial input was solicited included suggestions, such as the introduction of light rail, developing a “more open” concourse plan, providing a low-cost carrier, and making the hotel and airport terminal more “user friendly.”

One stand-out comment was, “Huntsville is more than just rockets and military, we have a strong arts presence here, too. There should be more public art and changing exhibits.”

As a collaborative venture, the components of the master plan are scheduled to run concurrently with regional planning efforts. Timing is crucial, as these initiatives will mutually support one another.  This comprehensive endeavor will allow for an integrated development of the airport as well as the surrounding area.

To find out more information about the Huntsville International Airport Master Plan, visit: http://hsvmasterplan.mbakerintl.com/ . 

Delegation from North Alabama meets with international partners in Japan

The delegation from the city, county and state visit Toyota officials. The group later met with Mazda and GE Aviation officials and will take part in the Southeast U.S./Japan Association meeting this week.

 

A delegation from Huntsville, Madison County and the state is visiting Japan this week to further strengthen the area’s ties with its international partners.

The team includes elected officials, Chamber of Commerce leaders and company representatives of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama. On Monday, the team visited Toyota City and met with members of the Executive Team for Toyota USA.

“We have been traveling to Japan for many years, and we are pleased to be able to meet again with our Toyota partners in their home country,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “This provides us with the opportunity to tour their plants and facilities and to visit with our new partners at Mazda.”

The group also toured the Toyota Motomachi Plant and Toyota Kaikan Museum, seeing some of the company’s newest automotive technologies and smart cars.

Tuesday, the delegation met with leaders of Mazda.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of relationships in doing business with our overseas partners,” Battle said. “If we had not already established a long-standing collaborative relationship with Toyota, we would not have landed the new Mazda-Toyota plant.

“These commitments don’t just happen in 15-minute meetings or phone calls. There is a long process of communication, listening, and work toward mutual respect before we develop a trusted business relationship.”

Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. is building an automotive plant in the Huntsville city limits of Limestone County. The two companies will build the facility on 2,400 acres near Interstates 65 and 565. The plant will be able to produce 300,000 cars annually and employ about 4,000 people.

“These meetings in Japan with the Mazda and Toyota corporations have created an even greater sense of understanding of the partnership and commitment that has been created with two of the world’s most renowned automakers, while engineering, road design and site prep continues on more than 2,000 acres locally,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “It is truly exciting to be one of so many working together at so many levels to ensure the success of the largest economic development projects in the history of the state of Alabama. This project will be a redefining moment for North Alabama.”

Production will be divided evenly into two lines for each company to produce Mazda’s crossover and the Toyota Corolla. Operations are expected to begin in 2021.

“The plant will bring thousands of jobs to our area,” said Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “We secured this new plant because of a trusted relationship we have built over many years with our Japanese partners. In fact, much of it goes back to Toyota’s engine plant locating in Huntsville nearly two decades ago and becoming a true community partner.”

Members of the North Alabama delegation will also meet with GE Aviation and NGS Advanced Fibers, their Japanese partner in developing the silicon carbide for ceramic matrix composites. NGS is in Toyama, where the delegation will tour the sister facility to the one being built in Huntsville. These plants are the only two in the world to mass produce silicon carbide and ceramic matrix composite materials.

The delegation will also attend this week’s annual meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan Association in Tokyo.

The group includes Cherry; Battle; Strong; Greg Canfield, Alabama Department of Commerce; Hollie Pegg, Alabama Department of Commerce; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; Limestone County District 3 Commissioner Jason Black;   Lucia Cape, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber senior vice president of Economic Development, Industry Relations & Workforce; 2018 Chair-Elect Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Kim Lewis; Rick Tucker, executive director, Port of Huntsville; Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama President David Fernandes; Kim Ogle, corporate communications, Toyota Motor North America.

 

Frontier Takes Flight at Huntsville International Airport

It was a Rocky Mountain high kind of day Friday when Frontier Airlines’ first flight from Huntsville took off.

“We are excited to be starting service and proud to bring our unique brand of ‘Low Fares Done Right’ to Huntsville,” said Jonathan Freed, director of Corporate Communications for Frontier Airlines. “Frontier is always looking for ways to make travel easier and more affordable, and our … frequent flier program with family-friendly benefits and attainable elite status, as well as our reduced change fees – free if you make changes more than 90 days before you fly – are the latest examples …”

The first flight departed for Denver at high noon Friday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Frontier will begin service to and from Orlando on Oct. 21.

“Frontier Airlines boasts a network that serves over 100 cities in the U.S., Mexico and Dominican Republic,” said Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker. “They have over 1,000 nonstop and connecting routes. Couple that stability and structure with our region’s excellent track record of supporting low cost carriers and it’s a recipe for success.

“This partnership fills a void in our market and provides our leisure and business travelers with more options for a lower price. Our customers appreciate convenience and we know they will support this service by flying local from Huntsville International Airport on Frontier Airlines.”

For information, visit flyfrontier.com and flyhuntsville.com.

Sen. Shelby announces $29.1M grant for Huntsville International Airport

 

A $29.1 million federal grant will be used to build another taxiway at Huntsville International Airport. The grant was announced by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.

“The city of Huntsville is growing at a rapid pace,” Shelby said. “This new taxiway will allow for increased accessibility and efficiency for air traffic to and from North Alabama. Additionally, the funding will play a vital role in enhancing economic development throughout the region.

“As Huntsville continues to attract more business, it is essential that the city and surrounding area improve and modernize local infrastructure in order to meet the demands of its booming economy.”

The construction of a 4,600-foot taxiway will provide access to airport property that can accommodate building nearly a dozen 747-9 parking positions, as well as more than 600,000 square feet of hangar space – more than doubling the airport’s current cargo capacity.

“The funds … will impact our facility as a whole and include improvement to the Jetplex Industrial Park, International Intermodal Center and the airport, itself,” said Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker. “The announcement ensures our ability to continue economic development initiatives within our region and positively impacts our entire state.”

Huntsville Strikes Silver with Flights to Orlando

Silver Airways has joined the ranks of air carriers at Huntsville International Airport.

And it didn’t waste any time with its first nonstop flight to Orlando taking off Thursday morning.

We are very excited to start this highly-requested nonstop service for business and leisure travelers from Alabama and the Tennessee Valley travelling to the attractions, beaches and businesses of Central Florida, including NASA and Florida’s Space Coast,” said Alabama native and Silver Airways Vice President David LeNoir. “We are delighted with the support and outstanding reception from the folks in the Tennessee Valley for our safe, affordable, and friendly air service.”

To celebrate the new nonstop Huntsville-to-Orlando service, Silver is offering fares for a limited time from only $99 at silverairways.com. In addition, Silver offers one-stop connections from Huntsville to Fort Lauderdale and Key West and one-stop connections from Huntsville to Marsh Harbour and Freeport in the Bahamas.
“The addition of Orland0 … to the list of nonstop destinations for our market has been received with great excitement,” said Betty Fletcher, chair of the airport’s board of directors.
Mayor Tommy Battle emphasized the importance of non-stop air service.
“Our push to offer more non- stops to our top destinations has brought us another outstanding airline to better serve North Alabama,” said Battle.
Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker said it’s important for local residents and businesses to take advantage of the opportunities at Huntsville International Airport.
“Attracting and sustaining new air service is a community-wide matter that affects each and every one of us – both the leisure traveler and the business traveler,” he said. “Launching this service from Huntsville to Orlando is an excellent step to providing all of the citizens of the Tennessee Valley more air travel options and savings.
“Support from the business community and our residents is integral to attracting and sustaining service like this in Huntsville and so we encourage everyone to fly HSV and Silver Airways so that we can continue to provide more air travel options to more destinations and with lower fares.”