ALTUS — Helicopter maker Sikorsky Aerospace Services plans to open a flight training and maintenance academy here in the former Quartz Mountain Aerospace facility, adding more than 50 jobs to the local economy.
Expected to open in April, the Sikorsky Training Academy initially will focus on providing Black Hawk helicopter training to foreign militaries. The first group of students is from the United Arab Emirates, said Sen. Jim Inhofe, who spoke during the announcement Friday.
About 400 people attended the event.
“I see this as the beginning of something really good for southwest Oklahoma,” Inhofe said.
Sikorsky, based in Stratford, Conn., said Altus, near Fort Sill, provides several hundred square miles of operating space for the academy, certified landing areas and certified night vision routes. The weather in Altus is also well-suited to flight training schedules, Sikorsky said.
Paul Jackson, a spokesman for Sikorsky, said the company is hoping to tap into a pool of retired military pilots in Altus to fill instructor positions. The center will employ 75 to 100 people when fully operational and could be expanded in the future.
Sikorsky has partnered with Altus-based Aviation Training Consulting to operate the academy.
Hiring for the academy has begun and will ramp up next week, said Robert Cox, chief executive officer of Aviation Training Consulting. Instructor applicants are very highly qualified military retirees; the company also will be looking to fill aircraft maintenance, administrative and security positions.
The firm plans to lease the 100,000-square-foot hangar, located at Altus Quartz Mountain Regional Airport, from the city. He said $100 million worth of helicopters will be brought to the academy as well as full flight simulators made by Flight Safety International in Broken Arrow.
The facility was once home to Quartz Mountain Aerospace. After receiving millions of tax credits from the state, the company laid off most of its 150-member workforce in late 2008 and filed for bankruptcy in October of 2009. Remnants of the company were auctioned off in 2010. The company's demise was a blow to the Altus community.
Friday's announcement brings the potential for a new beginning.
“This facility is one that has had its ups and downs, and mostly downs,” Inhofe said. “Now that it's all cleaned up and ready to go, it exactly fits the needs of Sikorsky.”
Sikorsky operates on five continents and employs 18,000 people worldwide. The Altus academy will be the company's first venture into Oklahoma.
Since 1978, Sikorsky has delivered more than 3,700 Black Hawks to more than 25 countries, and the aircraft are used for missions including border protection, supporting the war against terrorism, humanitarian relief and the war on drugs. Sikorsky recently signed a five-year contract to provide hundreds more of the helicopters to the U.S. Army, Jackson said.
Sikorsky Aerospace Services is the worldwide aftermarket business of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.