Aerospace Industry is ‘Second to None’ for State, Nation

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April 15, 1953. It’s a date that most Americans wouldn’t know, nor be expected to know, except that if you owed any taxes, payment was due. It is a significant date for another reason. It is the last time the United States lost a ground soldier due to an enemy air attack. Truly remarkable, if you think about it, especially considering all of the wars and battles our country has fought in since then. Vietnam, the Persian GuIf, Afghanistan and Iraq certainly come to mind. The reason for this extraordinary achievement is our air superiority. Quite simply, we have owned the skies for almost six decades.

That momentous accomplishment didn’t happen by accident. It has happened because of the outstanding pilots in our armed services and also the vastly superior aircraft produced by our nation’s aerospace and defense industry. Our pilots, aircraft and workforce that produce these aircraft are the best in the world. They are the best because of an industry that prides itself on innovation and acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job that must be right, the first time.

As our nation celebrates National Aerospace Week this week, it’s important to note that more than 800,000 people are employed in the aerospace and defense industry across the U.S. And that’s not counting the millions of middle-class jobs and over 30,000 suppliers the industry supports in all 50 states. It is one of the few industries in the U.S. with a trade surplus. In 2010, the industry enjoyed a $51 billion surplus, the largest of any manufacturing sector. This is the sixth year in a row that the industry has had the largest surplus of all U.S. manufacturing sectors.

Even right here in Oklahoma, aerospace is responsible for 144,000 direct and indirect jobs. It is one of our state’s leading economic engines, generating an annual economic output of $12.4 billion and a payroll of $5 billion with salaries averaging about $55,000, twice the average salary in Oklahoma. In fact, aerospace is Oklahoma’s top export, with sales topping $330 million annually!

Oklahoma is well known for its aerospace industry both here and abroad. Oklahoma is one of the seven centers, or hubs, in the world for the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aircraft. There’s only one other MRO hub in the U.S., and it’s in Florida. Our state has the world’s largest military and commercial MRO facilities right in our own back yard, Tinker Air Force Base and the American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Base in Tulsa. With 28,000 employees, Tinker is the state’s largest single-site employer. In addition, OKC is also home to the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, the nerve center, if you will, of our nation’s air transportation system.

As director of aeronautics for the State of Oklahoma, I often get the privilege to represent our state at various aerospace and aviation events around the country. Last month, I was part of an Oklahoma team led by Gov. Fallin that traveled to Washington, D.C., for an international trade show on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Oklahoma’s presence was felt throughout the event as state officials touted Oklahoma’s UAV research and capabilities to hundreds of industry leaders from across the globe. Oklahoma is already at the forefront in UAVs and is well positioned to become a global leader in this burgeoning industry.

The theme for National Aerospace Week, “Second to None,” provides us an opportunity to reflect on what aviation and aerospace have allowed us to achieve as a nation during the last century. It also gives us pause right here in Oklahoma to reflect on the success of our aerospace industry and the thousands of skilled and dedicated employees who made that happen and who continue that legacy. They truly are second to none!

By Victor N. Bird, Director 

Victor Bird is the director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and 2010 chair of the National Association of State Aviation Officials. He is the 2009 recipient of the General Thomas P. Stafford Award from the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance.