Sec. LaHood joins GA industry rally

March 21, 2011

“The only very important people in here today is you!” rallied Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), before some 2,000 aviation workers on March 21 in Wichita, Kan. The multitudes of workers erupted in cheers at his words. “This rally is about you. It’s about these tremendous machines that you build for the world.”

Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood addressed over 2,000 aviation workers in Wichita, Kan., March 21 at the Rally GA event.
Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood addressed over 2,000 aviation workers
in Wichita, Kan., March 21 at the Rally GA event.

The event, sponsored by GAMA, Cessna, Learjet, and Hawker Beechcraft, was meant to showcase the general aviation capital of the world for Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The secretary was in town to tour the aircraft manufacturing facilities and to assure the employees that he would take back to President Barack Obama the word that aviation manufacturing plays an important role in the administration’s goal to double exports in the next five years.

Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHoodGA generates one of the few positive trade balances of any industry. “Even in a down cycle you still create $4.9 billion in exports. That’s extraordinary,” said LaHood. “We are in your debt for the very professional way you do what you.” The secretary said he would take back to Washington the very clear message he received that Obama must visit Wichita to see the importance that GA manufacturing represents to the economy, later saying the president would visit next year.

David Coleal, vice president and general manager of Learjet, continued the theme, noting that 60 percent of the billings for GA aircraft manufactured in 2010 were for exported aircraft.

Bill Brown, executive vice president of Hawker Beechcraft, noted that the industry creates 1.2 million jobs with a combined pay roll of $53 billion; 17,000 aviation employees alone live in Kansas. Forty percent of the world’s GA aircraft are produced in Wichita, frequently referred to as the air capital of the world.

Cessna President, CEO and Chairman Pelton with AOPA President and CEO Fuller Cessna President, CEO and Chairman Pelton with AOPA President and CEO Fuller

Cessna President, CEO, and Chairman Jack Pelton pointed to the enormous banners hanging overhead in the Cessna hangar. Those messages are facing this way for a reason, he said, so that the secretary can see the message the industry wants carried back to Washington. The banners read: “Kansas is #1 in U.S. General Aviation Exports,” and “General Aviation Equals Kansas Jobs.”

“The secretary came here not to see our buildings or our machinery, but to see our workforce that is the envy of the world,” Pelton continued. He then challenged the federal government to help. “If the government gets out of the way and supports us there is no telling how big we can get.” Pelton called it “vital” that industry and government work together to create more jobs.

Rally GA event held in Cessna hangarThe rally comes after a devastating two years of plummeting sales and sagging order backlogs for aviation manufacturers, especially in Wichita. Cessna alone has reduced its Wichita workforce by 50 percent to 5,000 workers. Hawker Beechcraft had cuts nearly as large.

Pelton expressed gratitude to the federal government for tax incentives, including 100 percent depreciation in the first year for new business aircraft purchases, and other incentives for business investment.

Kansas Senator Moran  Kansas Representative Pompeo  Kansas Governor Brownback with Wichita Mayor Brewer
Left to right: Kansas Senator Moran, Kansas Representative Pompeo,
Kansas Governor Brownback with Wichita Mayor Brewer

The Wichita congressional delegation, including newly elected Rep. Mike Pompeo and Sen. Jerry Moran, joined the industry leaders on stage.

The senator said the most important task for those in Washington is to return the economy to a place that it is putting people to work so there’s enough wealth for people to buy aircraft and invest.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback urged the Washington legislators to support fair trade laws and to assure a fair playing field for GA manufacturers. “We’ll compete against anybody on a level playing field,” he said.

“I’m not going to nor is anyone else on this stage going to stand around and let China or Germany or any other country take over the United States’ position as a global leader. We’re not going to let that take place.”

AOPA President and CEO Fuller, NBAA President Bolin, and Garmin President Gary Kelley AOPA President and CEO Fuller,
NBAA President Bolin, and
Garmin Vice President Gary Kelley

Speaking after the event, AOPA President Craig Fuller encouraged government support as well. “While America is built upon the strength of its people and its industries, it is vital that the government stand behind them. That is why it was so important that Secretary LaHood visit Wichita and see for himself and on behalf of President Obama the great things the general aviation industry is doing. It was my privilege to be a part of such an event.

GAMA President Pete Bunce GAMA President Pete Bunce rallied the crowd.

“Secretary LaHood really seemed to touch the more than 2,000 general aviation community employees who were at the rally. His acknowledgement that Wichita is the epicenter for general aviation in the world shows that he understands the importance of GA to the nation’s economy and its balance of trade. We hope that his promise to try to convince President Obama to come to Wichita and see for himself will bear fruit, and as the Secretary said, that there will be even more workers employed by Wichita’s GA industry when he visits.” Fuller also had the opportunity to talk privately with LaHood at the event, which he chronicles in his blog.

Wrapping up the rally, Bunce rallied the employees once more. “You heard it. The industry is coming back,” he reiterated.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.