ATLANTA – The Army’s new fixed wing training aircraft may be flying over Dothan as early as June, but it could be almost 11 months before flight students from Fort Rucker begin training under a new provider.
Ray Duquette, president of CAE USA, said the company is moving forward with building a new training facility at Dothan Regional Airport and obtaining six Grob G120TP training planes, although a second bid protest from the current training contract holder, FlightSafety International, remains active in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
“We have been awarded the contract and we feel reasonably comfortable in moving forward,” Duquette said Thursday at the 2016 Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit at the Georgia World Congress Center. “We were awarded again in March and we have to begin providing fixed wing training in March of 2017. So, we have to begin the process of having a facility ready to go, of obtaining aircraft and then using that aircraft to train our instructor pilots to make sure they are ready to go in March of ’17.”
Construction of CAE’s 75,000-square-foot facility has begun. When complete, the building will include five simulator bays, 10 classrooms, 26 briefing/debriefing rooms, a fitness center, kitchen/cafeteria, student lounge and customer offices. Lease agreements have also been finalized with the airport for use of some of the airport’s hangars.
The purpose of the contract is to train Fort Rucker flight students to fly the Army’s C-12 airplane, used primarily for passenger and light cargo duties.
The facility will house simulators for the C-12 as well as simulators for the Grob, the training planes used by students to learn the C-12. Duquette said four simulators will be used, but two of the four will have the capability to change cockpits to align with three varying designs of the C-12, two for the Army and another for the Air Force.
Duquette said the simulators and aircraft will be equipped with data recorders so students can receive immediate feedback after performing a simulated mission.
“The students will be briefed before the mission, they will go fly the mission and when it is over, that data can be downloaded so they can see in a debrief what went right and what went wrong,” Duquette said.
All training will be done on-site at the Dothan Regional Airport. Currently, flight training takes place at Dothan and simulator training takes place in Daleville.
Duquette said the facility will be built for future expansion, although the prospect of Army or Air Force fixed wing training expanding significantly is slim.
“But, we never know how many more international students we can bring in,” Duquette said. “For instance, the Saudis have taken on the C-12 and there could be others down the road. Plus, there are future platforms coming and there will be competition for those.”
While CAE USA continues to prepare to take over fixed wing training, a bid protest remains active in federal court. FlightSafety International is challenging the bid in the Court of Federal Claims and argues that the Army incorrectly evaluated the advantages of the CAE proposal as well as the disadvantages of the FlightSafety proposal. CAE was initially awarded the contract in June of 2015. FlightSafety filed an initial bid protest. Discussions were held and the Army re-awarded the contract to CAE on March 10 of this year. FlightSafety filed a second challenge on March 15. FlightSafety also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have halted CAE’s work on the contract, but the motion was denied.
No final determination has been made on the latest challenge. The next filing in the case is not due until May 16.
FlightSafety’s contract ends Sept. 30 and CAE is not required to begin training until March of 2017. Either FlightSafety’s contract will be extended six months or CAE will be asked to accelerate its start date.
“We are looking at every way we can to see if we can accelerate that,” Duquette said.
When training begins, Dothan will be the 161st operational site for CAE, whose main headquarters is in Montreal, Canada. The fixed wing training contract was actually won by CAE USA, a subsidiary company based in Tampa, Florida. CAE employs about 8,000. About 1,000 work for CAE USA.
The lack of a final determination on the contract leaves many FlightSafety employees in limbo. FlightSafety has owned the Army fixed wing contract for more than 30 years. Its instructor pilots and other employees have established roots in the Wiregrass. It is not known how many workers from FlightSafety would be given an opportunity to work for CAE USA if it prevails in court and begins training local flight students soon.
Duquette said the facility will employ “a little less than 100.” The switch in contract providers will likely not amount to a net job gain or loss for the area.