The state of Kansas' business aviation industry

Business jet market recovery expected to be long and slow


"They have a product development plan that is, in my view, well-developed to enter the market where we and Cessna have been for many, many years," he said.

Eyes turn to Mexico

As they look to lower costs, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet have turned to Mexico as a lower-cost area to place work.

"The pressures to do that are going to increase," von Rumohr said.

About 190 aviation companies do business in Mexico and employ about 27,000 people.

For the first time last year, Mexico was the fastest-growing aerospace supplier in the world, outpacing China by a wide margin, Aboulafia said.

"Mexico represents a compelling value proposition for a lot of companies that want to outsource, whether that's partnering or building (their own) factories," Aboulafia said.

Hawker Beechcraft employs about 280 people there, up from 180 a year ago.

Hawker Beechcraft is evaluating what work its Mexico facility will perform in the future, Boisture said.

The hourly labor costs there are attractive. They total about $4 an hour, including wages and benefits, sources say. The Mexican government also encourages U.S. companies to place work there.

The decision to move work, however, isn't as simple as wage rates. There are a number of issues and risks to consider, including quality and political uncertainties, experts say.

"The long-term economic stability of the country is something to worry about," said Malcolm Harris, a finance professor at Friends University and former chief economist for the U.S. Postal Service.

Pelton said Cessna has no plans to expand beyond what it's currently doing in Mexico.

A Cessna-owned facility in Chihuahua builds the composite fuselage for the company's Corvalis aircraft. It also does some sheet metal work and wire harness assembly work.

Labor officials are concerned about the work being shipped to other countries.

Machinists union District 70 president Steve Rooney said Mexico is a threat to U.S. jobs. He said the government must rethink the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"It's a race to the bottom," he said.

Still, Rooney is optimistic about the future of jobs in Wichita. The key will be training, he said.

Because of the age of the current work force, many workers will retire over the next five to eight years, Rooney said.

"As long as we have people trained, most of those jobs will come back," he said. "I believe people want planes built by highly skilled people right here."

Wichita's aviation industry might look a little different in the coming years.

"I think there's a synergy here that no other region has," Bombardier Learjet's Coleal said.

"That's hard to replicate."

Other parts of the world are trying to be the next Air Capital with its concentration of manufacturers and great work force, Coleal said. Wichita must understand the competition and be prepared.

"As long as we're aware and able to execute... I think we have a strong future," Coleal said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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