Aviation Still Going Strong in North Carolina's Northeast
In the place where the Wright brothers flew the first airplane, the spirit of discovery lives on in a region that has become one of the country’s top spots for aviation manufacturing, maintenance, repair and education.
With assets that include a skilled work force full of many retired military personnel, college and university aviation training and degree programs, the Elizabeth City Aviation Research and Development Commerce Park, the U.S. Coast Guard’s largest aviation facility and 11 private airports, North Carolina’s Northeast Region is at the epicenter of aviation development.
Employers who have discovered the region include LSA America, which manufactures a new type of light aircraft for civilian pilots; DRS Technologies, which performs heavy maintenance of U.S. Coast Guard aircraft in Elizabeth City; and TCOM, whose Elizabeth City facility is the only one in the world devoted to aerostat and airship manufacturing, assembly, flight test and training. Telephonics has a facility adjacent to Elizabeth City Pasquotank County Regional Airport for repair of radar systems for aircraft operated by the Coast Guard.
“We’re developing a culture of aviation,” says Wayne Harris, director of the Albemarle Economic Development Commission.
A Tradition of Excellence
That culture, and the proven ability of state and local officials to help aviation businesses succeed, attracted LSA America to Halifax County. The company, which qualified for job creation incentives from the One North Carolina Fund, is investing $400,000 and creating 34 jobs to produce the Allegro Light Sport Aircraft.
“The history of aviation in North Carolina and the help we have received from NCDOT (Department of Transportation) Aviation were a factor in making this region home,” LSA America president Douglas Hempstead says.
The availability of a labor force with a strong work ethic also played into the decision, he notes.
“Good people are a must,” Hempstead says.
Workforce Training Perks
The support of Halifax Community College was an added perk for LSA America, Hempstead says.
Training programs at area colleges and universities, including Elizabeth City State University, the College of the Albemarle and the Elizabeth City Center of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, ensure that workers have the skills they need, Harris says.
“There is a lot of skilled labor,” agrees Vann Rogerson, president and CEO of the North Carolina Northeast Commission. “There are a lot of opportunities for aviation facilities in the future.”
The Elizabeth City Aviation Research and Development Commerce Park is helping aviation companies envision their future in the region. Connected by a C-130-class taxiway to a 7,200-foot-long runway shared by the Coast Guard and Elizabeth City Pasquotank Regional Airport, the facility has sites available for large businesses, which may qualify for incentives. The College of the Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University offer their programs on site.
One of the region’s major aviation employers, DRS Technologies, overhauls Coast Guard aircraft in two 80,000-square-foot hangars and a 10,000-square-foot machine shop at the Elizabeth City Aviation Research and Development Commerce Park. The company has leased other hangar space for future growth, Harris says.
Elizabeth City Aviation Research and Development Commerce Park is adding additional land to prepare for new business arrivals.
“If someone is interested in coming, we can get it all done and break ground in six months,” Harris says.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
The world’s largest fully accredited university specializing in aviation, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, offers training at the Elizabeth City Coast Guard base in partnership with the College of the Albemarle.