Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 7, 2006
The call came Tuesday afternoon and it was not the news locals hoped to hear.
The U.S. Air Force Air Training and Education Command did not select Lockheed Martin and Craig Field for the Initial Flight Screening program. The program will go to Pueblo, Colo., teamed with Doss Aviation, officials said.
“We did all we could do,” Wayne Vardaman of the Economic Development Authority said from the Centre for Commerce after the announcement was made.
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“We are very proud that we were good enough to compete,” Vardaman said. “We feel like we had the best compelling reason for the Air Force to locate in Selma, but you cannot take the politics out of politics. The long delay in announcing shows how difficult the decision was for the Air Force. The project brought the team and the community together.”
The awarded contract, worth $178,218,989, comes in, according to Vardaman via his Lockheed contacts “at $6 million more than Lockheed’s offer.”
“We obviously are disappointed, since we believed our proposal provided the overall best training solution for the Air Force,” said Warren Wright, manager of media relations for Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support. “The people of Selma and Dallas County worked hand-in-hand with us to propose a viable solution, and we know that they share in our disappointment. The community’s efforts in pursuit of this contract were tireless and we are proud of our collective efforts.”
The statement stipulates that “actual award of a contract will be contingent upon completion of a successful National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis by the Air Force at the offeror’s proposed training location in Pueblo, Colo., before mobilization and performance begins.
The contract will include a six-month mobilization effort, one basic year and nine one-year options and will provide ground school and flight training for Air Force officers with follow-on assignments to undergraduate flying training courses.
The contract is structured to screen between 1,200 and 1,700 students per year once the program is operating at full capacity.”
Menzo Driscoll, director of Craig Field Industrial Authority, said, “This is a screening process before they put real money behind pilots. If this program is successful, marine and navy pilots will go through this, too.”
Community support for the program was strong. In May 2005, more than 200 volunteers descended on Craig Field Industrial Park to clean up the area, making the site more appealing. At the time, Probate Judge Johnny Jones said, “This is the Selma I know.
People coming together and getting involved for a cause.”
Vardaman said that, “in the final analysis, Lockheed Martin and Team Selma did everything possible to win.”
Looking to the future
U.S. senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions each expressed disappointment with the decision.
“I am disappointed that the Air Force did not choose Selma as the site for their Introductory Flight Training program,” Shelby said. “I believe Selma is an excellent location for IFT, as it meets all the education and training requirements set forth by the Air Force.”
Although Selma was not awarded this contract, Shelby said he looks forward to finding other opportunities for Craig Field and the Selma community.
Sessions said it was one of his top wishes that the facility would locate in Selma because he knew it would have had an important economic impact.
“That’s why I did all I could to support Lockheed Martin’s selection process when it chose Selma as its designated site,” Sessions said. “That selection in itself certainly speaks well for Selma. While the Air Force, after completing its process, decided otherwise, I certainly believed that Lockheed and Selma’s capabilities were unmatched.”
Sessions added that he believes Selma is ready for economic expansion, and he is more determined than ever to see that it occurs.
“Progress will require a united federal, state and local effort,” Sessions said.
Although the contract was awarded to another site, that decision may have opened up other opportunities at Craig Field, Vardaman said.
Saturday, Vardaman had a head’s up that the contract for the Air Force’s Introductory Flight Training Program (IFT) might be awarded to Colorado.
“It wasn’t definite, though,” Vardaman said.
“There is nothing we could do or could have done. Lockheed Martin got the highest marks they’ve ever had on the project; we had folks in the room crying with the civic presentation, and we’ve let other opportunities go over the past two years staying available for this,” he said. “Ultimately, I just don’t think it was meant to be. I don’t mean that lightheartedly. A lot of praying went into this and this may just be an unanswered prayer. I’ve had three other projects present themselves today for the base.”
The money earmarked for Project IFT at Craig Field can be used for other projects in the Craig Field Industrial Park, Vardaman said.
Once home to the 29th Flying Training Wing – whose mission was pilot training in the Air Force – Craig Air Force Base was originally established as an Army Air Corps base in 1941 and trained pilots for duty in World War II. It was closed in 1978, leaving a gaping hole in the region’s economy.
Wright said that, although there is nothing in the works now, Lockheed Martin would welcome the opportunity to team up again with the Selma community.
“We value the professional relationship we share with the Air Education and Training Command and the U.S. Air Force,” Wright said. “While disappointed in this outcome, Lockheed Martin looks forward to continuing our work with the Air Force on current and future programs.”
In 2005, Lockheed estimated Selma’s inclusion in the project would mean a $119 million economic impact over the 10 years of the contract provided each of the one-year options are picked up. Lockheed added that the facility would pay $500,000 annually in state incomes taxes, property tax, sales and use tax.
Editor Tammy Leytham contributed to this story.