CRESTVIEW — A new Bob Sikes Airport tenant will soon offer certification aimed at transitioning military aircraft mechanics to civilian certification.
Simpsonville, S.C.-based Carolina Aeronautical Airframe and Powerplant, an aeronautics vocational school, is opening a branch campus in the Okaloosa Industrial Air Park.
"Our primary market is aimed at retiring military aircraft mechanics that want to get their certification transferred over to the FAA civilian side," Carolina Bob Sikes campus Director Dave Clark says.
G.I. Bill reimbursable
Among its technical curricula, the school specializes in Federal Aviation Administration mechanic and inspection authorization certification.
Instruction will be offered at Carolina Aero's John Givens Road school, with some coursework available online, according to an Economic Development Council news release.
Though Carolina Aero's courses are non-degree earning, they do lead to FAA certification and licensing, and are transferable to degree-granting institutions such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has a Crestview campus.
Because Carolina Aero is Veterans Affairs certified, military veterans and active duty personnel may use Montgomery G.I. Bill educational reimbursement benefits toward tuition.
Roughly 65 percent of the student population comprises veterans and military personnel, the EDC release stated.
"I was one of the retired military guys that retired at Eglin and I had to go all the way to South Carolina to find a school, so it's always been a goal of mine to start a school in this area," Clark said.
He and school founder John Gallien will be the school's initial instructors, "but as we grow we'll hire more certified mechanics as necessary," Clark said.
Clark said he and Carolina Aero's administrative staff plan to be moved in by mid-February, with classes starting in April.
Area officials are excited to add another business to the airport, particularly at the same time the facility's largest employer, L3 Crestview Aerospace, laid off 100 employees.
"What an absolutely fantastic asset this company will be to the Crestview Bob Sikes Airport, the county, and to many of our county folks, especially our veterans, in Okaloosa County," County Commissioner Wayne Harris says.
"It's always exciting when industry recognizes the opportunities they have to be successful in our area," Mayor David Cadle says. "Crestview welcomes the folks from Carolina Aero who are coming and settling here."
Growth of the region's aeronautics industry attracted the school to open in Crestview, Clark said.
"With Airbus coming and the F35 at Eglin, there is going to be a good market for mechanics in coming years," Clark said.
Florida’s business-friendly environment and the Crestview area's quality of life impressed school officials, the EDC release stated.
Carolina Aero's presence "is further evidence that organizations are taking note of the diverse and growing Northwest Florida aviation cluster," EDC Executive Director Nathan Sparks said.
“Carolina Aero has been greatly impressed by the outpouring of goodwill and support from the business associations in the county," Clark said. "We look forward to becoming a contributing member of the community.”