David Franson
August 29, 2013

Making The Case for The Air Capital

English: Downtown Wichita, Kansas

English: Downtown Wichita, Kansas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Wichita, Kansas, we tend to take exception to being called “Fly Over Country.” Unfortunately, the entire middle of the country is often considered just the space between destinations. Contrails crisscross the skies above the Great Plains everyday. It has even been said that “Wichita” is an Indian word that means “hard to get to by airlines!” But, those of us who live and work here are quick to point out that most of the American-made airplanes making those contrails probably made their first takeoffs and landings in Wichita! For more than 100 years, airplanes have been flying over this state and for most of that time, they’ve been manufactured here, too. Thanks to companies like Beechcraft, Boeing, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna and their predecessors, TravelAir and Stearman, more than 300,000 airplanes have been built in what has come to be known as the “Air Capital of the World.” That’s more than any place else on earth–by a wide margin!

Recent developments have raised the question of whether Wichita should continue its claim to the “Air Capital” title. Boeing is nearing completion of its exodus from the city, announced in 2012, after 83 years. Hawker Beechcraft also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, emerging in 2013 as Beechcraft Corporation, a smaller company with no jet production. Cessna and Bombardier Learjet streamlined their workforces over the past five years as orders for their airplanes and production rates declined. They’ve continued to invest in the development of new models, but their scheduled introductions have been impacted by a marketplace for light and mid-size jets that remains tentative. Even Spirit AeroSystems, which had defied the aerospace industry downturn and even increased production rates on several lines, has been forced to take significant write-offs and has laid off workers in recent months. Now, it’s pursuing divestiture of some of its programs. Working capital in the “Air Capital” is becoming more difficult to come by.

But, those factors aren’t enough to overshadow the rich history and exceptional role Wichita continues to play in the global aerospace business. Consider this:

Wichita still builds more airplanes than anywhere else in the world. We’re one of five “clusters” in the aerospace industry–Seattle, Montreal, Toulouse, France, and Dallas-Fort Worth are the others–and we still produce more airplanes than they do–combined!
Kansas’ aviation industry has a $7 billion impact on the national economy. Local manufacturers exported more than half of their production to international customers in recent years, resulting in a strong positive contribution to the nation’s balance of trade.
Kansas aircraft manufacturers shipped more than 500 airplanes worth more than $4 billion dollars in 2012.

As if that isn’t enough, Wichita continues to be the world leader in a number of other key areas:

The Wichita-based National Institute for Aviation Research and the National Center for Aviation Training are both world-class, industry-leading sites with exceptional reputations, resources, leadership and results.
The city possesses an unparalleled number of experienced, highly-trained, aviation-savvy machinists, technicians, engineers, and administrators. As a result, it’s where aviation companies not based in Kansas come to recruit workers.
With Airbus, Beechcraft, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna, and Spirit AeroSystems all resident in the community, Wichita is also home to an aerospace supplier base that numbers more than 130 companies. They currently work with airframe manufacturers based in Wichita and around the world.
Wichita State University’s College of Engineering ranks among the world’s foremost producers of aeronautical engineers.

With a century of aircraft production as part of its heritage and an exceptional manufacturing, supplier and educational base, Wichita will likely be the unrivaled Air Capital for a long time to come, even if it is located in the heart of Fly Over Country!

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