Kansas Aviation Expo joins Wichita Flight Festival

About 100 pilots, airport operators and other aviation professionals gathered Friday for the inaugural Kansas Aviation Expo held at the National Center for Aviation Training.

The expo brought representatives from various sectors together to discuss issues facing one of the state’s largest industries and was held to complement the Wichita Flight Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday at Col. James Jabara Airport.

“Why didn’t we think of this before,” Mayor Carl Brewer said in welcoming remarks.

The goal is for the expo to grow each year.

Presenters discussed the importance of the state’s airports, the declining pilot population, education issues, aviation history, aviation fuel taxes, aviation insurance, air traffic control, unmanned vehicles and other issues.

A big concern for the aviation industry is finding enough qualified employees to work in aircraft manufacturing, Jennifer McNelly, president of The Manufacturing Institute, said in a presentation.

Only three out of 10 parents encourage their children to pursue manufacturing as a career, she said.

And 82 percent of the nation’s manufacturers can’t find skilled workers.

The Wichita Area Technical College is part of a group of community colleges that comprise the National Aviation Consortium to support job training.

It’s a group leading efforts to help build the workforce, McNelly said.

Besides focusing on young people, the National Aviation Consortium is launching an effort to reach veterans.

Communities must also appreciate their general aviation airports, presenters said.

Kansas has 140 public-use airports that contribute more than $10billion worth of economic impact, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation Division of Aviation.

The airport is vital to a community, said Bill Dunn, vice president of airport advocacy for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “The challenge we have is convincing people outside the aviation community of the importance of airports.”

Pilots talk about it, but “we stop that conversation when we cross the fence line,” Dunn said.

People who don’t fly out of a particular airport don’t see the need for it, said Colin McKee, deputy director of the Johnson County Airport Commission.

Engineers, doctors, car dealers, air ambulances, business leaders and others use general aviation airports.

When McKee’s father passed away nine years ago, the family donated his organs. They were flown to multiple organ recipients from the local airport.

“That organ isn’t coming on American (Airlines),” McKee said. “It’s coming through general aviation airports.”

It’s also the first thing a CEO sees when he or she flies into a community.

“We are the first impression,” McKee said.

The Manhattan Regional Airport is preparing to break ground on a terminal expansion project in what will ultimately be a $17million expansion, said Peter Van Kuren, airport director of the Manhattan Regional Airport.

The good news is that Manhattan’s officials and chamber of commerce appreciate the airport’s importance. The biggest hurdle is to have the general public agree with you, Van Kuren said.

The Manhattan airport is working to attract non-aeronautical businesses to the site.

The Salina Regional Airport is working to recruit a repair station on the airfield to fill a need for aircraft repair, said Tim Rogers, the airport’s executive director.

Airports help grow or attract business, speakers said, citing studies that show that manufacturing plants choose sites located near a general aviation airport that has a substantial runway.

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