College Plans Plane Painting Facility in Jacksonville

Hoping to attract aviation-related businesses as well as provide a training ground for students, Florida Community College at Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority are looking to build a multimillion-dollar airplane painting facility at Cecil Field.

The Aviation Authority took the first step toward making the project a reality when it agreed Monday to hand over $10 million to the school, money that needs to be matched with $10 million from state coffers to make the project a reality.

FCCJ needs to receive the money from the Aviation Authority by the end of January in order to apply to the Legislature for the matching state educational training grant. The money would most likely not come through until the end of the 2007 legislative session in May.

If it gets the funding, the school would build the facility on eight acres at Cecil Field that it would lease for free from the Aviation Authority for 40 years. Construction would take about 18 months to two years, the school and authority said.

The authority would run the facility - most likely, said Aviation Authority Executive Director John Clark, hiring an outside company to operate it. The school would benefit by having a way to train students in its aviation program, while the authority would reap revenue from the businesses that have planes painted at the facility.

Painting or "coating" airplanes is a business that ties in with the type of entities the city has long sought for the airfield portion of Cecil Commerce Center, a former military based that was turned over to Jacksonville in 1999.

Coating is "a critical component of repair, of manufacturing, a critical component of modification," said J. B. Renninger, director of FCCJ's Aviation Center of Excellence, which is based at Cecil. "A lot of different aspects of the aerospace industry would be interested in this."

Because of that interest, said Clark, the business would help attract new companies as well as serve existing tenants.

"We want Cecil to evolve into a one-stop shop," Clark said. "We look at it as a value-added opportunity."

Flightstar, the largest aircraft overhaul company in Jacksonville, said such a facility would help deal with a space crunch at its mammoth hangar, which is bursting at the seams about two years after the company moved into it.

"If everything worked out right, we could schedule work in there and use our space for maintenance," said Matt Eaton, the company's vice president for corporate development. Right now, he said, painting work is done in-house.

Companies from outside Jacksonville might also be lured to the area, said Eaton, with the closest dedicated aircraft painting facility about750 miles away, in Greenville, Miss.

That's the top of industry response that Renninger hopes for.

"Quite honestly, we could get business from outside the region," he said. "Aircraft are very mobile."

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