Archived Feature Stories

Space Engine Systems in preliminary agreement to come to Cecil Spaceport

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority executed a preliminary agreement Feb. 9 to lease technology development facilities at Cecil Spaceport to Space Engine Systems, a Canadian aerospace company that is developing a reusable propulsion system.

Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Space Engine Systems’ goal is to design a single-stage-to-orbit cruise vehicle launched horizontally that is capable of flight up to hypersonic speeds, according to a JAA news release.

The spaceport, part of Cecil Airport in West Jacksonville, comprises an 18,200-square-foot hangar, 1,582-square-foot launch operations center and an 880-square-foot office.

When a final agreement is reached, Cecil Spaceport will function as Space Engine Systems’ North American operation.

“Development of Space Engine Systems’ propulsion technologies program exemplifies the type of operations Cecil Air and Spaceport was developed to facilitate,” said Todd Lindner, director of Cecil Spaceport, in the release. 

“Florida is an excellent location for our plans in the US where we plan to set up both ground and launch facilities. We will bring in several highly trained space/aerospace personnel to Florida shortly,” said Pradeep Dass, president and chief technology officer of SES, in a news release posted at

Cecil Spaceport has one tenant – Generation Orbit – and is in discussions with two other launch-related companies.

Jacksonville’s Cecil Spaceport is counting down to ‘liftoff’

The former Navy jet base is ahead of the game with continued progress into commercial space development and expects to begin launching into orbit within the year.

The plans for Cecil Spaceport have long been in the making, but there’s been little visible progress of space operations at the former U.S. naval air station on Jacksonville’s Westside. But 2020 promises to be a threshold year, according to officials overseeing the development.

“2020 is a big year,” said Todd Lindner, director of Cecil Spaceport since March 2017 for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority. Lindner, who is also a pilot, has been connected to Spaceport plans since 2006 and understands some of the skepticism.

But 2019 saw the addition of aerospace contractor Aevum Inc. for space vehicle development. The company, based in Huntsville, Ala., was awarded a $4.9 million contract from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems center to launch small satellites to low earth orbit from Cecil Spaceport, which is a “horizontal” launch point.

That’s the kind of launches similar to airplanes that take off from runways as opposed to “vertical” launch vehicles that take off from launch pads at Cape Canaveral.

Aevum’s project will eventually launch Department of Defense Space Test Program missions. Aevum joins Generation Orbit, a contractor that’s already been working on projects at the Cecil Spaceport since 2014.

Engine testing for spacecraft has already taken place at Cecil, with this year expected to see more and possibly some launches. In January, the U.S. Air Force Research laboratory completed an engine firing test at the facility. The testing of the X-60A engine was on-ground, meaning it did not take flight. But the firing of the single-stage rocket engine is hypersonic and is designed to reach Mach 5 speeds. It was tested under the oversight of Generation Orbit, JAA officials said.

Lindner said much of the activity will ultimately be determined by the Federal Aviation Administration. But the next year will bring action.

“You’re going to see some actualization,” Lindner said. “It’s still in its infancy. FAA is not going to let anything to occur that could potentially harm the non-participating public.”

In 2020 the federal government is working toward more contracts beyond what have been awarded. But the initial space flights will be substantial from existing contractors, Lindner said.

“They will be taking an aircraft with a rocket attached to it and flying it through our flight corridor and operating range over the Atlantic Ocean and releasing that rocket. It will ignite and it will go,” Lindner said.

Cecil Spaceport is not on its own in terms of oversight from the JAA, and the physical facilities are changing rapidly. There are multiple governmental entities seeking to see the spaceport succeed, Lindner said. Beyond the contractors, the “partners” include Space Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation and FAA among others.

The operations control center is a $1.8 million facility along with another $7 million for the air traffic control tower — both are being finalized. FDOT, FAA and Space Florida are combining forces to cover those costs, Lindner said.

“We have the infrastructure in place right now to accommodate operations,” Lindner said, noting the Spaceport will also be adding facilities as contractors need them for specific purposes and that process is will likely undergo multiple modifications.

Aaron Bowman, senior vice president of business development for JAX Chamber, said the First Coast has always had a solid association with the aerospace industry due to the presence of multiple military installations. But the Spaceport will be key to taking it further.

“I think it’s going to be very important,” said Bowman, former commander of Naval Station Mayport and a current Jacksonville city councilman. He said much of the space development will involve “nano satellite launching” which takes payloads into low orbit and they disintegrate upon re-entry.

“That means once companies and governments sending satellites into low orbit, if they want to maintain that capability, they will have to replace them,” Bowman said. “As far as Cecil, we’ll be one of the few on the eastern seaboard.”

Commercial spaceports are in the very infancy of development. But it’s clear that Cape Canaveral will no longer have a monopoly on space transportation development. There is already competition for developments of spaceports elsewhere.

Beyond Cecil, Camden County, Ga., is already vying for its own space transportation facility. The county announced in December it is completing its FAA application to build a commercial space launch site. The Camden County Commission said plans are being modified for smaller space vehicles.

Camden County Administrator Steve Howard said while the county has been angling for commercial space development for a couple of years, it’s best to remain versatile in the commercial space race.

“The space industry has progressed dramatically since we started this process,” Howard said. “Smaller launch vehicles and small internet and defense satellites have become far and away the biggest market segment for Spaceport Camden.”

It’s not clear how long Camden County’s FAA application and modified plans will take to process before the aviation agency makes a decision.

Fortunately for Cecil Spaceport, Jacksonville’s interests have been long running and they have a jump on the game, said JAA CEO Mark VanLoh.

“When I first came to Jacksonville [in 2018], I thought ‘Well that’s a nice gimmick,’” VanLoh said. “And all of the sudden I see and have met some of the CEOs of some of these companies and they’re serious. ... This is happening.”

Ultimately, it’s taken about 20 years to get commerce running on levels on the 17,000 acres of Cecil where the U.S. Navy turned the property over to the city. The Spaceport will help keep that at a high level, Bowman said.

“Building buildings out there is certainly exciting to me and we’ll be giving them leases. These are all going to be high-wage jobs,” Bowman said.

Spaceport could help raise the profile of Cecil, and Bowman said it’s a profile that’s been sorely overlooked.

“Many don’t give us enough credit for the aerospace that we’ve got... Now you’ve got some great options,” Bowman said. “It gives us another leg of the stool because now we’ve got this whole other industry out there. It’s a big deal.”

VanLoh acknowledged it’s hard to put a price tag on Spaceport development.

“It’s important to JAA because we were one of the first to be designated a Spaceport,” VanLoh said. “The technology has caught up. The commercial part of this has started to realize how important this is. We can’t just rely on NASA and the military to put commercial objects in orbit.”

Private industry can do it faster, efficiently and more affordably, VanLoh said.

“It’s another one of those feathers in the cap,” VanLoh said. “We want companies to relocate here for the business. Cecil is one of those assets.”

The Cecil Spaceport itself only employs about a dozen people on staff, Lindner said. Then more specialists will be hired, but it will remain a limited staff. The contractors themselves will be the big boost in employment, potentially bringing in as many as 300 workers for each company.

That’s going to be on top of about 3,400 people a day working at the Cecil industrial area for various commercial entities not associated with Spaceport.

“The bulk of economic impact is going to come from the support industries,” Lindner said ”... Payload preparation, people who are building the payloads, materials people, liquid oxygen, propellant and oxidizer industry, manufacturing, that’s going to be a huge part of the industry as well. I don’t see ours or any spaceport for that matter making a majority of their revenue from the launches themselves.”

Jacksonville Airports Contribute $6 Billion to the Florida Economy

Jacksonville, FL, April 3, 2019 – A new economic impact study by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) found that Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s (JAA) four-airport system contributes more than $6 billion annually to the local economy.

The Florida Statewide Aviation Economic Impact Study measured the benefits of on-airport impacts, visitor spending impacts, and multiplier impacts of Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX), Cecil Airport, and Herlong Recreational Airports.

“As this FDOT study shows, our aviation system is a significant contributor to Northeast Florida’s economy,” said JAA CEO Mark VanLoh. “The expected growth at each of our four airports will continue fueling the region’s financial health.”  

The report was prepared as part of the Florida Aviation System Plan’s (FASP) 2018 update and provided the estimated annual economic impact on Florida’s 20 commercial service airports, 100 public-use general aviation airports, and 11 military aviation facilities. A total economic impact of $175 billion dollars is generated annually by aviation in Florida. 

Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) generates $3,194,422,000, the highest economic impact of the four airports the JAA operates. It supports 26,396 jobs generating a payroll of close to one billion dollars. The airport also offers educational tours and an internship program through local colleges. 

The Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX) created 885 jobs, establishing a payroll of close to $33 million and provides an economic impact of over $100 million. Given its location between downtown Jacksonville and the beach, the airport attracts corporate and business users, and is home to several flight schools. 

Cecil Airport provides Northeast Florida with an economic impact of close to $3 billion, over 11,000 jobs and a total payroll of close to $700 million. Cecil Airport is a public joint civil-military airport and spaceport serving military aircraft, corporate aircraft, general aviation, and air cargo. 

Herlong Recreational is JAA’s smallest airport but still provides Florida with an economic impact of $52,471,000 and created 379 jobs with a total payroll of over $16 million.  This airport has been Northeast Florida’s primary location for light sport aircraft, skydiving, gliders, and other experimental aircraft since the 1960’s. It is home to the Soaring Society Glider Club and supports a private charter company, a flight school, skydiving business, and a maintenance shop. 

For more information about the economic impact studies, visit

Award received for rehabilitation and clean-up of the Cecil Commerce Center

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority, City of Jacksonville, US Navy, and environmental partners recently received an award for the rehabilitation and clean-up of the Cecil Commerce Center from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cecil Airport Wildlife Hazard Assessment

Cecil Airport is in the process of starting a 12 month long Wildlife Hazard Assessment of the airport.

To conduct a Wildlife Hazard Assessment (WHA), Environmental Resource Solutions, Inc. (ERS), our consultants, will diligently follow the five-step process indicated in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 14-Part 139-337, ensuring that the VQQ WHA will be fully compliant with all FAA mandates related to WHAs. The five steps in securing FAA approval are initial analysis, identification of potentially hazardous wildlife species, identification and location of wildlife attractants, results and recommendations, and employee training.

Preparation for the WHA is spent conducting several months of surveys to identify the species utilizing VQQ property, how species occurrence may change with each season, and their movements and patterns onsite, as well as offsite. This will be accomplished through Fixed-Point Surveys, General Observations, Night Spotlight Surveys, and Small-mammal Transects.

ERS will also utilize the following data sources and onsite reconnaissance: Recent aerial photographs or aerial surveys, Interviews with airport personnel, Observations during the fixed-point surveys, and General inspections of on-site and off-site areas.

Recommendations will include those for habitat management, wildlife permitting, and wildlife control and removal, with suggested control measures for specific species observed at VQQ during the assessment. Upon VQQ approval of the WHA report, it will be forwarded to FAA.

Helopad Certification

The Cecil Airport Operations Department recently received the approval from the FAA for the Certification of landing sites at our existing helopads previously not recognized by the FAA. This process included inspection by the FDOT Aviation Office as well as FAA Flight Procedures personnel. Cecil Airports meet and exceed the recommended configuration for a helicopter landing location for daytime use. With this certification the helopads will be published in the FAA Airport Facilities Directory with direction of flight and restrictions for direction of launch and landing on helopad 1, please do not fly into the control tower.

Aviation Career Education Camp at Cecil Airport

Over 35 high school students visited Cecil Airport during a week long camp focused on giving young people broad exposure to the wide variety of aviation career opportunities. Representing several local schools, the students spent the day learning how to control air traffic with the Florida State College of Jacksonville's ATC simulators. They also toured the Aviation Center of Excellence and learned about aviation maintenance.

The Aviation Career Education (ACE) camp, which was held from June 25-29, is in its fifth year of operation. Students visit three of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority's four airports: Jacksonville International Airport, Cecil Airport, Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX), along with the air traffic control center in Hilliard and the Florida Air National Guard. In addition, they participate in group activities that include designing an airport, professional development and teamwork. The week culminates in a flight around Jacksonville where campers take the controls of an aircraft provided by one of the flight schools based at JAXEX.

Inaugural First Coast Defense Expo

On October 16, the Florida League of Defense Contractors held their inaugural First Coast Defense Expo at Cecil Airport.  The Jacksonville JetPort hosted the nearly 325 attendees in their newly constructed hangar.

The event provided a powerful opportunity for regional defense contractors and suppliers to showcase their capabilities to national prime defense contractors. 

In addition, a town hall style discussion on the importance and role of the defense industry to national security and the economy was conducted.

 Participants on the panel included Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, Jacksonville’s Mayor Alvin Brown and key industry representatives. 

“The First Coast is an anchor to our national security -- a standing not possible without the dedication of our men and women in uniform and the support and expertise of the companies that make up our regional defense industrial base,” said Crenshaw. “Events like this are a fabulous opportunity to view exhibits, network, participate in workshops and meet the people who play a central role in supporting the mission of our men and women in uniform wherever they serve."

Thirty-five sponsors and exhibitors including General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Fleet Readiness Center Southeast and Boeing were set up inside the hangar.  A static display of seven aircraft, a Cougar ISS armored vehicle and a Go-Fast boat added flavor to the event.

Given the success of this inaugural event, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority looks forward to the opportunity of hosting the expo on an annual basis.

Boeing Celebrates QF-16 Program Accomplishments

The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target program hosted a ceremony August 31 at Boeing's Cecil Airport facility in Jacksonville, Fla., to celebrate program accomplishments before the next contract phase, which is planned to begin in 2013.

The program is developing a higher performing target jet that can be flown manned or unmanned to help evaluate how U.S. fighters and weapons operate against potential adversaries.

Participants acknowledged employees' efforts in the program's success. After installing over 3,000 new wires for the first QF-16 conversion, the program turned power on in late 2011 and had a successful first manned flight in May.

"The important work you're doing on the QF-16 program is one example of innovation that is important not only to the U.S. Air Force but also to the state of Florida," said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.

"Today's celebration signals a continued commitment between The Boeing Company, our customer and our supplier partners," Torbjorn Sjogren, Global Maintenance & Upgrades vice president, said.

U.S. Air Force customer Randy Brown, director, Armament Directorate, joined employees for the event along with a number of Florida state and local officials including Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, representatives from the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and community leaders.

Boeing won the $72 million contract in March 2010. In this initial phase of the contract, Boeing is performing pre-engineering, manufacturing and development to convert six F-16s into QF-16 aerial targets for the Air Force.

The Air Force will begin the next level of testing in Phase II of the contract at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in 2013. Boeing will support the initial flight testing at Tyndall then later at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

By Wendy Parker, Boeing PR

Florida Governor Signs Spaceport Bill at Cecil Airport

Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 59 officially declaring Cecil Spaceport a designated Space Territory.  The bill was passed by Florida lawmakers during the 2012 legislative session as an initiative to develop Florida’s aerospace industries and will provide funding opportunities for Spaceport facilities and infrastructure. 


“It is critical that we continue to focus on and invest in infrastructure projects that will directly benefit our state’s economy.  Having Cecil Airport designated as a spaceport will play a major role in the continued development of Florida’s aerospace and aviation industries and will continue to keep our economy heading in the right direction.” said Scott.


The Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) has been working for over six years in acquiring this designation which began with obtaining the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Spaceport license for horizontal operations.  Cecil Spaceport now joins two other designated Space Territories in the state – Cape Canaveral Spaceport and Eglin Air Force Base.


The JAA is also the first Spaceport in the country to complete an official Spaceport Master Plan and continues to search for a qualified operator.

JAA Hosts Spaceport Development Summit

In March, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority hosted its first Cecil Spaceport Development Summit.  The goal of the two day event was to educate participants about commercial spaceport goals and needs of the area.  Among the 140 participants were aerospace executives, City, and State elected officials, and local universities.  Topics in the forum sessions covered the future of space travel, workforce needs, and incentives for companies to locate in Jacksonville.  The Summit concluded with a tour of Cecil Commerce Center and Cecil Airport.  Companies that attended included XCOR Aerospace, The Rocketplane and Masten Space Systems.  Featured speakers for the event included Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Juan Merkt, Aerospace Chairman at Jacksonville University, and Jerry Mallot, President of JaxUsa Partnership.

Cecil Continues to be an Economic Driver

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) has contracted C.C. Borden Construction, Inc. to build hangar 915 at Cecil Airport.  The hangar will be a 33,000 square foot maintenance hangar with associated office, workshop, aircraft hangar and apron area.   Hangar construction is forecasted to be complete in March 2013. 

KCI Aviation, an aircraft maintenance provider, has signed an agreement with the JAA to lease the new facility.  The company currently has aircraft maintenance facilities in West Virginia and Oklahoma.  This third location at Cecil Airport is projected to bring an estimated 40 new jobs to the Jacksonville area with a direct economic impact of $2.2 million annually.  KCI Aviation expects to start Jacksonville operations immediately after hangar construction.

A Look at the Past, Present and Future!

Cecil Airport and its facilities have served this community with distinction for over 70 years.  The airport has a rich and long tradition of aviation history.  Starting out as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) in 1941, the main mission was military flight training.  Today, Cecil Airport supports high tech systems and aviation training, governmental and civilian aviation operations and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul activities.  Through the years, most of the airport facilities and infrastructure have been revived and are a productive part of the airport today.    

Completed in 1942, Hangar 13 provided a base of aviation training, maintenance, and operations.  As seen in this 1955 photo, military aircraft were stored and serviced in the hangar.  Today the hangar is leased by the Department of Homeland Security and serves as a base of aviation operations for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jacksonville JetPort, Inc. (JJP) is the airports Fixed Base Operator (FBO, provides aviation services to the tenants and operators of the airport).  JJP recently completed the construction of a new 14,500 square foot corporate hangar.  With this construction, an important milestone was achieved; while this hangar is the fifth new hangar since JAA ownership in 1999, it is the first one built using private funding and not FAA, FDOT or JAA dollars.  Within one month of being completed, the hangar was fully leased to several corporate and private aircraft owners.  This hangar facility provides a combination of office, workshop and hangar storage.

Future expectations for Cecil Airport are high!  From spaceport development to new aviation facilities the airport is poised to be an economic engine fueled by aviation companies from around the nation in need of a larger industrial airport with the right mix of location, business climate, and a skilled work force.  KCI Aviation, a perfect example of these types of companies, selected the airport to become their company’s third national location.  The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is committed to continued developments and building successful business partnerships.