March 23--Wichita didn't need to host a big rally Monday to remind itself that it's still the Air Capital of the World -- the place where more than 40 percent of the world's general aviation aircraft is assembled and the reason Kansas is No. 1 in U.S. general aviation exports.
But general aviation has had a rough ride during the Great Recession, a fact aggravated by President Obama's criticism of CEOs who use private jets and lawmakers' scolding of bailout-seeking auto executives for flying business aircraft to Washington, D.C.
So Monday's event inside a Cessna Aircraft hangar was a fitting public display of enthusiasm for Wichita's aircraft manufacturers and skilled work force. It was also a proud declaration that Wichita stands ready to help the nation's economy recover and serve Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports within five years.
Organized by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the refreshingly nonpartisan event drew more than 2,000 people, including workers from Cessna, Bombardier Learjet and Hawker Beechcraft, as well as suppliers, union and government officials and Gov. Sam Brownback, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita.
It certainly left the desired good impression on special guest Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who told the crowd he would try to persuade Obama to visit Wichita and later wrote on his blog: "I've traveled all across the U.S., and I have rarely been so warmly welcomed. These are proud American workers, and they have good reason to be proud. General aviation is a big driver of economic opportunity and innovation, supporting 1.2 million jobs across the country and contributing more than $150 billion to our nation's economy."
Kansas can hope LaHood becomes an ally in Washington as general aviation seeks support related to certification of new aircraft and regulation of aircraft exports.
More welcome focus on Wichita as planemaker to the world will come April 25, as Brownback hosts a governor's aviation summit. The goal of that event, Brownback said Tuesday at City Hall, will be to answer the question of "what two or three things should the state of Kansas do, or continue to do or not do, that will help the aviation sector grow and prosper into the future?"
With the U.S. Air Force's $35 billion contract for air-refueling tankers having gone Boeing's and Wichita's way, and with the recent state-brokered deals to keep Hawker Beechcraft headquartered in Wichita and maintain Bombardier's Learjet 85 production in Wichita, things finally are looking up for aircraft manufacturing in Wichita and Kansas.
As LaHood concluded in his blog post about the Wichita visit: "The general aviation innovators I met with have an entrepreneurial spirit that matches the pioneers of aviation. And, as the global economy picks up, I'm proud to stand with them, working together to make sure general aviation continues to flourish. The work they do and the products they make -- that's how America will win the future."
-- For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
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