Eagle editorial: Boost aviation industry

With the Wichita area’s aviation employment down by nearly 11,000 workers since 2008, among the 16,000 total jobs still missing, the local economy needs work. Credit is due two recent efforts to help Wichita’s prime industry.

One saw progress with Wednesday’s unanimous approval of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The bill, introduced in May by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, has strong bipartisan and industry support. A committee statement said it “helps streamline the general aviation regulatory regime in a manner that will improve safety, reduce costs and stimulate innovation,” and Pompeo has said it will revitalize general aviation by reducing the cost of new planes. Ed Bolen, CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, said “the new guidelines carry the potential to drastically improve the fortunes of an industry that continues to struggle in this difficult and challenging economic climate.”

Lower costs and improved fortunes would come as a needed boost to Wichita’s general-aviation manufacturers, and to their existing and future employees.

The other welcome effort happened last month, when Gov. Sam Brownback led a delegation to the Paris Air Show.

The Kansas Democratic Party and the Kansas Watchdog website treated it like some secretive, taxpayer-funded vacation. The latter also highlighted the $94,590 cost to taxpayers ($79,575 of which was covered by a 2011 federal grant).

But the governor was exactly where he needed to be those two days, personally selling the Air Capital of the World to the worldwide aviation market. With the governors of Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi representing their states at the show, the scandal would have been if Brownback had stayed home – and left Kansas’ $2.07 billion in annual aerospace exports undefended from the would-be poachers around the country and world.

As Tim Chase, president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, said in a statement after the trip: Brownback’s “active participation reinforced the message that our state offers the infrastructure, generations of expertise, positive business climate and world-class supply chain necessary for aerospace to thrive in this global marketplace.”

The governor met with officials with a dozen companies, also hosting a reception sponsored by GWEDC. Last week GWEDC and state officials said they were following up on the contacts made in Paris, as well as on conversations about the Wichita office and hangar complex that Boeing is scheduled to exit early next year. The show was a prime place to build on Wichita’s relationship with Airbus, which employs 400 people at its engineering center in Old Town.

In addition, Wichita’s National Center for Aviation Training will be the site of the Kansas Aviation Expo, Sept. 26-27. Sponsored by the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation and the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education, the inaugural event is meant to gather and showcase the state’s industry.

While selling airplanes isn’t easy right now, selling Wichita as the best place to build them should be. Good for all those who are dedicated to that cause.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman