Wichita rally draws DOT secretary

 - April 28, 2011, 6:15 AM

Spearheading a rally of more than 2,000 general aviation workers in Wichita in March, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lauded the importance of general aviation manufacturing to the state of Kansas and the U.S. industrial base, and promised a visit to “the air capital of the world” from the President next year.

“The general aviation industry already supports 1.2 million jobs across America and contributes more than $150 billion to the nation’s economy,” LaHood said. “And I believe the industry’s efforts are crucial to President Obama’s goal of doubling exports within five years–just as they’re essential to keeping America on a trajectory toward economic recovery.”

And although the event in a Cessna Aircraft hangar was rife with federal, state and local politicians, it was General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce who elicited the loudest cheers when he told the crowd, “The only very important people in here today are you. This rally is about you.”

Cessna president, CEO and chairman Jack Pelton echoed that thought, when he noted, “The secretary came here not to see our buildings or our machinery, but to see our workforce that is the envy of the world.”

Pointing to the enormous overhead banners reading “Kansas is #1 in U.S. General Aviation Exports” and “General Aviation Equals Kansas Jobs”, the Cessna chief explained why the messages were facing that way: so the secretary can see the message the industry wants carried back to Washington.

Even following two years of plunging sales and shriveling backlogs, exacerbated by workforce cuts numbering in the thousands, GA still generates one of the few positive trade balances of any U.S. industry. “Even in a down cycle, you still create $4.9 billion in exports,” said LaHood. “That’s extraordinary. We are in your debt for the very professional way you do what you do.”

David Coleal, v-p and general manager of Bombardier Learjet, continued the former Congressman’s theme, noting that 60 percent of the billings for GA aircraft manufactured in 2010 were for exported aircraft.

Bill Brown, executive v-p of Hawker Beechcraft, added that the industry creates 1.2 million jobs with a combined payroll of $53 billion; 17,000 aviation employees alone live in Kansas. And 40 percent of the world’s GA aircraft are produced in Wichita, which refers to itself as the air capital of the world.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback urged the Washington legislators in attendance to support fair trade laws and to ensure a fair playing field for GA manufacturers. “I’m not going to…stand around and let China or Germany or any other country take over the United States’ position as a global leader,” the former U.S. senator said. “We’ll compete against anybody on a level playing field.” 

“For America to compete and win in the 21st century’s global economy, our businesses need to out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world,” LaHood acknowledged. “That’s exactly what is happening here in Wichita, where thousands of aviation workers are designing the next generation of aircraft.”

In conclusion, Bunce said, “The Kansas rally today served as a tremendous opportunity to showcase our industry to the Administration. This industry is an economic engine of growth and needs to be promoted and nurtured by our elected officials at every opportunity.” o