Wichita, KS Aviation Industry Flying With Innovation
No matter where you are in the United States or around the world, there is a good chance the airplanes you see flying overhead were made in Wichita, the home of famous aviation names such as Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet. With the establishment of the National Center for Aviation Training in the city, it's certain the next generation of individuals who build and maintain those airplanes will be trained in Wichita as well.
With some 28,000 workers engaged in aviation-related enterprises, Wichita clearly deserves its moniker of Air Capital of the World. Nearly 40 percent of global general aviation aircraft is produced in Kansas.
"Over the years the business has invested billions of dollars in property, plant and equipment to expand and update our Wichita site. It's a great base of operations because of the expertise and skilled aviation workforce that exists in Wichita," says Deborah Gann, spokeswoman for Spirit AeroSystems.
Spirit has manufacturing facilities on three continents but maintains its global headquarters and largest operations in Wichita, where 10,250 of its 14,000 employees are located. The company, which manufactures components and assemblies for commercial aircraft, was part of the Boeing Co. until 2005 and has roots in Wichita that go back 80 years.
Being located so closely together in a central hub empowers Wichita's aviation companies to work together on issues that are important to the industry, including creation of the National Center for Aviation Training, Gann says. To address a critical shortage of aviation workers – nearly half of the industry's current workforce will soon be eligible for retirement – the center will offer training in avionics, robotics, composites and other fields of aircraft manufacturing and maintenance.
"It will provide world-class training to the next generation of aviation workers, helping ensure a future supply of skilled aircraft employees and Wichita's ability to remain the Air Capital of the World," Gann says.
The futures of Wichita and aviation are tightly entwined. Cessna, for example, has delivered 6,000 Citation business jets, almost all of them made in Wichita. Today, the Citation X is the world's fastest civilian aircraft. In addition to its headquarters, Cessna's Wichita operations include component production, its advanced design group, final assembly of Caravan turboprop and Citation aircraft, sales, marketing and flight testing.
More than 6,100 Cessna employees work in Wichita, says spokesman Doug Oliver. Learjet, the Wichita company that invented the business jet in 1963, still has major manufacturing and service operations in the city. The company is now part of Bombardier Aerospace.
"Wichita is the birthplace of the Learjet, the first name in corporate aviation, and Bombardier still manufactures all of its Learjet aircraft in the original, now expanded, facility founded by Bill Lear," says Haley Dunne, spokesman for Bombardier Business Aircraft.
The company makes three Learjet models at its Wichita facility, which will soon take on final assembly of the new Learjet 85. That advanced jet is scheduled to enter service in 2013. Wichita is also the location of the Bombardier Flight Test Center, which tests the entire line of Bombardier aircraft, including Learjet, Challenger, and Global business jets as well as commercial aircraft. More than 2,300 of Bombardier's nearly 30,000 employees worldwide are stationed at Learjet, Dunne says.
"Aerospace is part of the DNA of Wichita (and) of Kansas," says Cessna's Oliver. "It is one of a handful of true aerospace clusters in the world and home to generations of dedicated women and men who have, together, shaped the global aviation industry. Cessna has always counted on the technical and professional skills of the people of the region, as well as the support of local government and education leaders who work to ensure Wichita remains a leader in aviation."