AOPA President Craig Fuller speaks to the North Carolina Aerospace Executive Forum.
While Washington lawmakers consider a proposed economic stimulus package, Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) in Greensboro, N.C., provides a real-world example of the jobs, technical training, and innovation that can come from aviation infrastructure investments.
The most “concrete” example is a 9,000-foot slab that is scheduled to become Runway 5L/23R late this year.
During a recent visit to GSO, AOPA President Craig Fuller told the North Carolina Aerospace Executive Forum that aviation investments should be part of any federal economic stimulus package.
AOPA President Craig Fuller with Paul Witt and Helen Cauthen
“We face a number of challenges in general aviation, and it’s very encouraging to see the enthusiasm, the growing number of students, and the expansion of the aviation industry here,” Fuller said. “Our message to the Obama administration is ‘Don’t leave aviation out of an economic stimulus package.’ Aviation infrastructure improvements provide immediate benefits and strengthen our economy for the long term.”
The $120 million runway was the key to GSO attracting a FedEx cargo hub and the 600 jobs that come with it. FedEx has built a high-tech sorting facility on its 170 acres at GSO, and the company has room to double its size there in the future.
GSO Airport Director Ted Johnson
“When FedEx first came here they sorted their packages under a tent at night,” said Ted Johnson, executive director of the airport authority at GSO. “Their growth and expansion have been nothing short of spectacular.”
FedEx is also a customer of TIMCO, a leader in heavy aircraft maintenance, which employs several hundred skilled mechanics and technicians at GSO.
Cessna’s Citation jet maintenance center at GSO recently doubled the size of its ramp to keep up with a surge in demand for its services. And despite the current economic downturn, the sleek, twin-engine jets come from all over the region for upgrades and scheduled service.
AOPA President Craig Fuller with Paul Witt, manager of Cessna’s Citation service center.
Perhaps the most dynamic of the 50 airport businesses at GSO is HondaJet, which made the airport its headquarters and manufacturing center. The company built its first very light jet under wraps at an out-of-the-way hangar at GSO, performed test flights there, and now customers from around the world will come to GSO for flight training and elaborate delivery ceremonies.
Honda has about 350 employees at GSO today earning $72,000 a year on average. The company has sold more than 100 HondaJets so far and plans to produce about 70 a year at GSO.
Guilford Technical Community College is investing heavily in new facilities and expanding its educational faculty at the airport to meet current and future demand for a skilled aviation workforce. The school is quickly moving to triple the size of its aerospace training program to 450 students a year from 150 today. And it’s adding specialized training in avionics and nondestructive testing as well.