Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cortez council supports increased airport user fees

During their first meeting in the new City Hall on Tuesday, the Cortez City Council voted to support a fee increase for the municipal airport.

Cortez Airport Manager Russ Machen wants to raise the passenger user fee, which is currently $4.50 per person, to at least $9. The move would require congressional approval, so the council voted to authorize Mayor Karen Sheek to sign letters to the state senators and congressman requesting an increase. The vote came during a busy night for the city council, during which they awarded several utility-related bids, heard public comment from numerous residents and announced the upcoming Four States Agricultural Exposition.

Machen said the airport fee is due for a raise, since it hasn’t been increased for 17 years.

“I think we’re all aware ... how much construction costs have gone up even in the last couple years,” he said. “Our ability to match federal grant money has not kept up with the times.”

He also said new regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration installed over the last few years have increased airport expenses all over the country, while federal grants have decreased. If Congress passed a bill allowing airports to double their user fees, the Cortez airport would increase its overall revenue by 18 percent and avoid having to dip into other parts of the city’s budget, Machen said.

The council voted unanimously to authorize Sheek to sign letters of support for the action and send them to Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennett and Rep. Scott Tipton.

Earlier in the evening, Sheek signed a proclamation declaring the third week of March to be “Ag Expo Week.” Several members of the event’s organizing board attended the meeting and gave a short presentation. The 35th Ag Expo takes place this year at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds on March 16-18.

Also on the council’s agenda was the transfer of a land lease at the airport, allowing a city resident to sell a hangar for private aircraft to a new owner. The council also approved bids for fertilizer, a new refuse truck and an aerial fiber and underground splicing project that will form part of the Cortez Community Network expansion along County Road L. The council wrapped up their meeting by approving some minor amendments to an ordinance that regulates mobile food vendors and setting a public hearing for an amended ordinance that regulates possession of alcohol at the Cortez Municipal Golf Course. That hearing is scheduled for March 28.

Original article can be found here:  https://the-journal.com

Pensacola flight school, American Airlines target area pilots



An American Airlines regional jet service is recruiting former military helicopter pilots to fly its commercial planes and teaming with a Pensacola flight school to provide the training.

Dayton, Ohio-based PSA Airlines and Pensacola's SkyWarrior Inc. celebrated the agreement in an announcement at Pensacola International Airport early Wednesday.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward joined PSA executives for a brief ride, taxiing along the airport tarmac in one of PSA's CJR 200 jets.

"This is a total win for our former military pilots and for our city," Hayward said after congratulating the owners of the family owned flight school, which is at the airport.

The airline will pay as much as $23,000 to help each of the 15 helicopter pilots the school hopes to train every month, said Greg Sigler, vice president of SkyWarrior Inc.

"The goal is to get them to where they can legally fly for the airlines. We will instruct them to the point where they can then enter the airline's first-officer program," he said.

Among the first group of students to go through the program is retired Marine Maj. John Marshall, who flew heavy transport helicopters in the military. Marshall, who left the Marines earlier this month, said the program is an opportunity for him to continuing flying while learning something new.

"The good thing for those of us who learned to fly through the Navy and Marines is that we actually learned to fly fixed-wing aircraft first," said Marshall, who earned his flight wings at Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Milton in 1999.

The SkyWarrior training was a refresher course in the skills he learned back in primary flight school, he said.

Nicklas Fortin, an Army National Guard medivac helicopter pilot who deployed to Iraq twice, also hopes to fly for PSA.

Fortin said he wouldn't have had the $23,000 to invest in the fixed-wing flight training.

"It's an opportunity for a career change and a good thing for my family," he said.

PSA Airlines, which flies under the American Airlines name, made the investment in the Pensacola school because of the area's large pool of former military pilots, said Brooks Butler, chief pilot and pilot recruiter for PSA.

Commercial airlines are battling a pilot shortage with experienced pilots retiring and flight-time qualifications for new pilots getting tougher, he said.

"Our decision to come to Pensacola was very strategic. Through all of our research, we know that military pilots are well-trained, disciplined and have the skills we need," he said.

Pilots who complete the Pensacola program will go on to the airline's training at its Dayton headquarters.

According to PSA's website, the 2,500-employee airline has 150 jets and has flight crews based in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, Knoxville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina. The airlines' fleet includes Bombardier CJR 200, 700 and 900 jets.

For more information about the training program and SkyWarrior, visit www.psaairlines.com and www.skywarriorinc.com.

Source:  http://www.pnj.com

Hayward Executive Airport (KHWD) expands operations as Bay Area business travel booms



HAYWARD — The Hayward Executive Airport on Tuesday celebrated an expansion project that will help it accommodate the increasing demand for air travel to and from the Bay Area.

The expansion comes in the form of a new operation from APP Jet Center, an aviation company that manages airport real estate and offers support services like fueling, hangaring and parking for jet and airplane owners and operators.

The expansion project APP Jet Center completed at the Hayward airport included the construction of a new 20,000-square-foot hangar that has increased APP’s capacity from about 64,000 square feet to 86,000 square feet of hangar space at the airport, a new 3,000 square-foot passenger terminal with seating, showers, “snooze rooms” and meeting space, and an open ramp for aircraft to access without congestion.

They are important qualities for clients that often pay thousands of dollars to fly on private charter planes or for companies and individuals who own their jets, said Thom Harrow, CEO of APP Properties, Inc., which owns APP Jet Center.



APP Jet Center has been at the Hayward airport for approximately 10 years in a different facility, but a growing client base and competition from new airport operators prompted it to invest in an expansion, Harrow said. It will shift its aircraft operations to the new hangar and facility, while its other Hayward Airport operation will house mostly offices.

Its client base includes a “significant” number of companies and individuals in Silicon Valley and other parts of the Bay Area who own planes, as well as charter jet services and aviation operators coming into the Bay Area from Europe, Asia and other places, Harrow said.

As business has boomed in the Bay Area, prompting an increase in both business and leisure travel, commercial airports, such as Oakland International Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport, and smaller airports like Hayward Executive Airport and Concord’s Buchanan Field Airport that serve private planes, have flourished.

“We’re seeing a boom in business travel,” said Doug McNeeley, manager of the Hayward airport, adding that the smaller hangars at the airport have a waitlist of about 70 people.

The APP Jet Center facility joins another new operation at the airport, a hangar and base from aviation company Meridian, which opened in December.

In addition to individuals, charter companies and corporate jets, the airport also serves police, humanitarian and media air travel. Its location in the East Bay close to the San Mateo bridge makes for easy access to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, McNeeley said.

The new expansion from APP Jet Center means more fuel will be sold, resulting in more money for the city of Hayward, which gets 5 cents per gallon or 3 percent of gross fuel sales from airport operations. APP Jet Center sells more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel per year, Harrow said.

“The Hayward airport is such an asset to our community,” said Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo. “We’re lucky to have it and lucky to have great tenants who invest in it. … Hayward, as a result, will continue to prioritize it.”

Story and photo gallery:  http://www.eastbaytimes.com

Cessna U206G Stationair, Far Reach Aviation LLC, N206JC: Accident occurred July 31, 2016 in Sleetmute, Alaska

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf 

Docket And Docket Items -  National Transportation Safety Board:   https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

Aviation Accident Data Summary -  National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Anchorage, Alaska

Far Reach Aviation LLC: http://registry.faa.govN206JC

NTSB Identification: ANC16CA053 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 31, 2016 in Sleetmute, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/13/2017
Aircraft: CESSNA U206G, registration: N206JC
Injuries: 5 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.


The pilot stated that he was attempting a takeoff from an unimproved, wet airstrip with four passengers on board when the tricy
cle-geared airplane began to hydroplane, followed by a ground loop, which resulted in substantial damage to the airplane’s left wing and tail.

A passenger stated that, after taxiing to the end of the runway and turning around, the pilot began the takeoff roll. After becoming airborne, the airplane immediately turned right, then left, then impacted the trees on the left side of the runway. Following the initial impact, the airplane began to travel backward through the trees.

Photographs of the airplane taken immediately following the accident by the passenger show the flaps in the retracted position, the right main landing gear box protruding through the floorboard of the airplane, and substantial damage to the left wing and fuselage, just aft of the rear window. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed during the initial climb after taking off from a wet runway and his exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.

The pilot stated that he was attempting a takeoff from an unimproved, wet airstrip with four passengers on board, when the tricycle-geared airplane began to hydroplane, leading to a ground loop that resulted in substantial damage to the left wing and tail of the airplane.

A passenger from the flight stated that after taxiing to the end of the runway and turning around, the pilot began the takeoff roll. After becoming airborne, the airplane immediately turned right, then left, then impacted the trees on the left side of the runway. Following the initial impact, the airplane began to travel backwards through the trees.

Photographs of the airplane taken immediately following the accident by the passenger show the flaps in the retracted position, the right main landing gear box protruding through the floorboard of the airplane and substantial damage to the left wing and fuselage, just aft of the rear window.








NTSB Identification: ANC16CA053
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 31, 2016 in Sleetmute, AK
Aircraft: CESSNA U206G, registration: N206JC
Injuries: 5 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot stated that he was attempting a takeoff from an unimproved, wet airstrip with four passengers on board, when the tricycle-geared airplane began to hydroplane, leading to a ground loop that resulted in substantial damage to the left wing and tail of the airplane.

A passenger from the flight stated that after taxiing to the end of the runway and turning around, the pilot began the takeoff roll. After becoming airborne, the airplane immediately turned right, then left, then impacted the trees on the left side of the runway. Following the initial impact, the airplane began to travel backwards through the trees.

Photographs of the airplane taken immediately following the accident by the passenger show the flaps in the retracted position, the right main landing gear box protruding through the floorboard of the airplane and substantial damage to the left wing and fuselage, just aft of the rear window.

Cessna 182P Skylane, N5990J: Incident occurred March 14, 2017 at Ernest A. Love Field Airport (KPRC), Prescott, Yavapai County, Arizona

http://registry.faa.gov/N5990J

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale 

Aircraft on taxi, wing struck a fence.  

Date: 14-MAR-17
Time: 03:30:00Z
Regis#: N5990J
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: C182
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: UNKNOWN
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: TAXI (TXI)
City: PRESCOTT
State: ARIZONA

Erickson S64F, Erickson Inc., N171AC: Incident occurred March 14, 2017 at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (KIWA), Mesa, Maricopa County, Arizona

Erickson Inc: http://registry.faa.gov/N171AC

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale

Rotorcraft, on taxi, nose gear collapsed.  

Date: 14-MAR-17
Time: 15:00:00Z
Regis#: N171AC
Aircraft Make: ERICKSON
Aircraft Model: S-64F
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: UNKNOWN
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: TAXI (TXI)
City: MESA
State: ARIZONA

Cessna 525 CitationJet CJ1, N86RL LLC, N86RL: Incident occurred March 14, 2017 in Aurora, Marion County, Oregon

N86RL LLC: http://registry.faa.gov/N86RL

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Spokane, Washington 

Aircraft while inflight, gear door detached from assembly.  Landed without incident.  

Date: 14-MAR-17
Time: 19:45:00Z
Regis#: N86RL
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: C525
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: MINOR
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
City: AURORA
State: OREGON

Beechcraft 400A Beechjet, N399RA: Incident occurred March 09, 2017 at Portland-Hillsboro Airport (KHIO), Hillsboro, Washington County, Oregon

Ponderosa Financial Services LLC: http://registry.faa.gov/N399RA

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office;  Spokane, Washington

Aircraft while in boarding area, number 2 engine caught fire.  No injuries.  Damage minor.

Date: 09-MAR-17
Time: 15:00:00Z
Regis#: N399RA
Aircraft Make: BEECH
Aircraft Model: 400A
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: MINOR
Activity: PERSONAL
Flight Phase: STANDING (STD)
Operation: 91
City: HILLSBORO
State: OREGON

McDonnell Douglas 369FF, N530KD: Fatal accident occurred March 14, 2017 in Chalmers, Big Creek Township, White County, Indiana

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Indianapolis, Indiana 
Rolls Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Rogers Helicopters, Inc.; Fresno, California
MD Helicopters; Mesa, Arizona

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf



NTSB Identification: CEN17FA127
14 CFR Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load
Accident occurred Tuesday, March 14, 2017 in Chalmers, IN
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELI CO 369FF, registration: N530KD
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On March 14, 2017, at 1546 eastern daylight time, an MD Helicopters 369FF helicopter, N530KD, impacted terrain during a power line construction flight. The pilot was fatally injured and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to Robin M Rogers and operated by Rogers Helicopters, Inc., under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 as an external load operation. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident and no flight plan had been filed. 

The purpose of the flight was to thread a sock line through the tower structure and pull the sock line to the next tower. The helicopter was equipped with a side pull hook assembly and a cargo hook. The cargo hook was attached to a 50-ft long line and grappling hook. The grappling hook was connected to a large metal needle which enabled the pilot to thread the sock line. 

A witness provided a 3-minute cell phone video of the events leading to the accident and the accident sequence. A preliminary review of the video revealed that the pilot was attempting to initially thread the needle through the center of the tower structure when the accident occurred. 

At 1535 the automated weather observation station located at White County Airport (MCX), Monticello, Indiana, about 5 miles northeast of the accident site, recorded: wind from 350° at 12 knots gusting to 19 knots, 7 statute miles visibility with light snow, broken clouds at 3,500 ft, overcast cloud layer at 4,800 ft, temperature 27°F, dew point 16°F, and altimeter setting 30.25 inches of mercury. 

Three witnesses independently reported gusting wind at the time of the accident. 

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov.


Howard Esterbrook
COURTESY 1ST BATTALION 171ST AVIATION REGIMENT 







A long-time Hawaii Army National Guard helicopter pilot from Kapolei died in a helicopter crash in rural northern Indiana Tuesday while helping to install power lines for a private company.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Howard Esterbrook, 53, was supposed to return to Oahu today after spending weeks flying for a mainland company that was working in Brookston, in Indiana’s White County.

“He was coming home today,” said Esterbrook’s wife, Laura “Ohelo” Esterbrook. “I was going to pick him up at the airport.”

The White County Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police received a call of a helicopter crash with injuries at 3:50 p.m. local time, according to Sgt. Kim Riley of the Indiana State Police.

Esterbrook’s helicopter was helping to install power lines on new steel light poles when it crashed for unknown reasons, Riley said. A ground crew removed Esterbrook from the wreckage and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

But Esterbrook was pronounced dead at the scene by the White County Coroner’s Office.

The National Transportation Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified, Riley said.

Esterbrook’s sister-in-law, former Miss Hawaii Luana Alapa, said her cousin lives in Indiana and reported that winds were blowing so hard the day of Esterbrook’s crash that cars were getting pushed off of the freeway.

“The winds in Indiana that day were unusually high,” Alapa said. “You would think he would get shot down in Afghanistan. But, no, it was the wind.”

Brad Hayes, executive director of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, regularly flew with Esterbrook when they worked for Maui-based Pacific Helicopters that operated across the islands.

Whatever happened to Esterbrook in Indiana must have been unexpected, Hayes said.

Esterbrook had logged more than 20,000 hours flying helicopters and “had all the flying survival skills, all the tricks up his sleeve and a thinking man’s approach to all these jobs,” Hayes said. “Based on this guy’s skill level, it was something that wasn’t controllable or even foreseeable. It snuck up on him and he didn’t even see it. Whatever went wrong, went wrong quick.”

Esterbrook had served for 17 years in the Hawaii Army National Guard, left to fly civilian helicopters for utility and environmental jobs, then lost 150 pounds before re-enlisting in the Guard three years ago, his wife said. He was planning to be redeployed to the Middle East later this year, she said.

Esterbrook is survived by his wife, who runs a company called Ohelo’s Mango Chutneys; daughter Taylor Esterbrook of Waianae; and brother Michael Uchida of Kahala.

Esterbrook had requested that his ashes be scattered in the waters off of Diamond Head, Alapa said.

Services are pending.

Source:  http://www.staradvertiser.com

An experienced pilot from Hawaii is dead, after his rotorcraft crashed in the Midwest.    

53-year-old Howard Esterbrook of Kapolei was in Indiana to install power lines to new electrical towers when the helicopter he was flying crashed in northern Indiana Tuesday.

Its unknown at the time what exactly caused the rotorcraft to go down.

Family and friends said Esterbrook is a well-known pilot in Hawaii's aviation community with many years of flying experience.  
     
He is also a Hawaii National Guardsman with 28 years of service, piloting Chinook helicopters.  He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and was about to start training for his third deployment.

Esterbrook also worked for Rogers Helicopter and Pacific Helicopter on Maui.

"We are all just stunned and heartbroken here.  Howard was a meticulous pilot, he's had a lot of years of experience.  He's been doing utility work since the early 90's," said Colleen Hauptman, President of Pacific Helicopter Tours.

His family said Esterbrook had a deep love for flying and for serving his county.

In a statement released by a family member it said:
"We are all pretty much in a trance, not really believing this happened. i am comforted to know how much Howard has made such an impact on his Hawaii national guard buddies, co workers, and many others."

Howard Esterbrook leaves behind his wife of 25-years, Laura Alapa-Esterbook and daughter Taylor.


Story and video:  http://www.kitv.com











WHITE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — A helicopter crash in White County that killed a pilot remains under investigation.

The helicopter crashed just before 4 p.m. and landed in a field near the intersection of county roads East 700 South and South 150 East in White County, southeast of Chalmers.

Sgt. Kim Riley with Indiana State Police said the pilot, identified as Howard Y. Esterbrook, 53, of Hawaii, was the only one in the helicopter at the time of the crash. Crews tried giving him CPR, but he died from his injuries.

Riley said the helicopter was part of a utility crew with EC Source, working to string power lines in the area. He said Esterbrook was subcontracted through the company.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were called in to assist with the investigation.

“We can find out the identification of the person that was flying the helicopter, in this case, and then we basically secure the situation until we can get the [NTSB] or the FAA here to start their own investigation and basically, we turn it over to them,” explained Riley.

It is unknown how long the investigation will take.

County Road East 700 South remained closed late Tuesday night.

Story and video:  http://wlfi.com

Piper PA-28-140, Eight Zero Nine Corp LLC, N56809: Accident occurred November 27, 2016 at Creve Coeur Airport (1H0), St. Louis, Missouri

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

NTSB Identification: GAA17CA120 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 27, 2016 in St. Louis, MO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/04/2017
Aircraft: PIPER PA28, registration: N56809
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The solo student pilot reported that, during landing, “the airplane bounced a couple times,” and the propeller struck the runway. He then taxied to the ramp without further incident. 

During a postaccident examination, substantial damage was found to the engine mounts and fuselage.

The student pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The student pilot's improper landing flare, which resulted in a bounced landing.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; St. Louis, Missouri 

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


Docket And Docket Items - National Transportation Safety Board:   https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms


Eight Zero Nine Corp LLC: http://registry.faa.gov/N56809

NTSB Identification: GAA17CA120
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 27, 2016 in St. Louis, MO
Aircraft: PIPER PA28, registration: N56809
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The solo student pilot reported that during landing "the airplane bounced a couple times" and the propeller struck the runway. The student pilot further reported that he taxied to the ramp without further incident.

During a postaccident examination, substantial damage was found to the engine mounts and fuselage.

The student pilot did not report any preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

SpaceX Scores Another Win in Push for Military Satellite Launches: Company wins $96.5 million contract from U.S. Air Force to put GPS satellite in space



The Wall Street Journal
By ANDY PASZTOR
Updated March 15, 2017 12:01 a.m. ET


The U.S. Air Force picked Elon Musk’s SpaceX to blast a second Global Positioning System satellite into orbit, part of a broader drive to open up various other launch contracts for competitive bidding through late 2019.

Tuesday’s award of the $96.5 million, fixed-price contract to SpaceX indicates that faced with escalating budget pressures and heightened congressional prodding, Pentagon brass are stepping up efforts to give the Southern California company additional opportunities to become a significant provider of military satellite launches.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has battled for years and even took the military to court to be allowed to bid on such contracts using its Falcon 9 booster. The latest developments mark another victory in the company’s campaign to snare business away from its dominant rival, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

SpaceX became eligible to conduct military launches in May 2015 and won its first Pentagon contract, also for a GPS navigation satellite, in April 2016.

The rival venture, called United Launch Alliance, for more than a decade had enjoyed a monopoly boosting large military satellites into orbit before SpaceX entered the fray. Until then, the venture’s average launch costs hovered around $200 million per mission.

United Launch still remains on top when it comes to lofting the largest, most expensive and highest-security spy satellites and other national-security payloads. It can cost more than $500 million to transport such satellites into space using the heavy-lift variant of the Delta IV rocket. Last month, two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon to ensure continued use of  the Delta IV.

But in announcing its award of the contract to SpaceX, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center also said it was making the company eligible to compete for five additional contracts through late 2019. That brings to 14 the total number of launch contracts the Air Force has committed to make competitive through that period, according to the release.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the space and missiles center and the Air Force’s senior space acquisition official, said Tuesday’s award supports the goal of “delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities.” The launch is scheduled for early 2019.

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said “we appreciate the confidence that the Air Force has placed in our company.”

SpaceX also is developing a more powerful rocket designed to launch the biggest intelligence satellites, some the size of school buses. But that rocket, the Falcon Heavy, isn’t slated to fly until later this year. It is expected to take at least several years for Pentagon officials and leaders of the intelligence community to become comfortable using the Falcon Heavy for cutting-edge spy satellites, according to government and industry experts.

The Air Force said the decision to expand competitive bidding also was intended “to allow the development of new launch vehicles.”

United Launch, which has slashed employees and otherwise cut costs, also seeks to end its dependence on Russian engines for its workhorse Atlas V rockets. It previously announced it was working on a lower-cost replacement booster called Vulcan, featuring U.S.-built main engines. Blue Origin LLC, the growing space startup founded and run by Jeff Bezos, chairman and chief executive of  Amazon.com Inc., is the front-runner to provide those engines.

Pentagon officials have said the results of competitive bidding between SpaceX and United Launch will depend on more than simply price. Previously, Air Force officials provided industry with strategy documents indicating the military didn’t anticipate “full and open competition” between United Launch and SpaceX to begin until 2023.

Over the years, the Air Force has said its launch-acquisition strategy takes into consideration factors such as booster reliability and the impact of specific awards on the health of the country’s industrial base.

Last year, Claire Leon, a top Air Force acquisition official, spelled out competing pressures to save money by choosing the lower-cost competitor while complying with high-level White House and Pentagon directives to maintain two separate launch providers. She told an industry conference in Pasadena, Calif., that until United Launch becomes a more agile competitor, the Air Force “may end up needing to compete a little differently,” by unilaterally allocating certain launches.

“It’s likely to be a split buy in some fashion,” she said.

Original article can be found here:  https://www.wsj.com