Firms seek aircraft pros in Wichita

Oct. 19, 2010


Oct. 19--Kaysone Phaysom has been out of work nearly a year and a half.

Mike Fuller was laid off two weeks ago.

Kevin McGuire is still working at a local aircraft plant, but he's nervous and looking at options.

The three were among hundreds who brought resumes, hope and healthy skepticism to a job fair at the Wichita Marriott on Monday.

"It's not looking too good in Wichita," said McGuire, a Cessna mechanic. "I just came out here to see what there is."

The aviation, aerospace and defense career fair followed another dramatic weekend for the local aircraft industry. Machinists at Hawker Beechcraft rejected their company's contract offer Saturday and cast further doubt on Hawker's future in Wichita.

Layoffs at several of Wichita's major employers have happened in waves over the past two years -- so far more than 12,000 jobs at Cessna, Bombardier Learjet and Hawker Beechcraft.

For companies seeking experienced engineers and other aircraft professionals, that means Wichita is a prime place to look, said Delmar Gainey, a representative of Cincinnati-based Expo Experts, which hosted Monday's job fair.

"The downsizing of qualified people means there's tons and tons of experienced people here that other people want," Gainey said.

Recruiters from 11 aviation-related companies greeted job-seekers at the east Wichita hotel, which is visible from the Hawker Beechcraft plant. Exhibitors included Lockheed Martin, Piper Aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace and American Airlines.

"Experience, obviously, is key for us," said Casey Cole, a recruiter for Jeppesen, a Denver-based subsidiary of Boeing that specializes in aeronautical charting and navigation services.

"Whatever Cessna or Hawker decide to do, we're here and we're hiring," Cole said. "We're just trying to get folks to look at Jeppesen."

Though most companies at Monday's job fair were looking for engineers and other degreed professionals, some said they expect to fill manufacturing jobs in the near future.

A Gulfstream recruiter told Fuller, a mechanic and welder, that the impending buildout of the G650, Gulfstream's new high-end business jet, could mean jobs "in the first quarter of 2011." Of course, most of the jobs would be at Gulfstream's home base in Savannah, Ga.

"I've got to find something," said Fuller, who was laid off from Utility Contractors Inc. two weeks ago. "The overall goal is to work, or at least to get an interview. Something."

Fuller expressed frustration over the Hawker Machinists' vote, saying the rejected contract could drive more jobs out of Wichita.

Workers who voted down the contract "need to get out here and see what the situation is really like," he said. "Most people I know are grateful to have any job they can get."

Phaysom, a hydraulic press operator, was laid off from Cessna in April 2009. Monday's job fair was her second, she said, and she has inquired about countless jobs online and elsewhere.

"Hopefully they can tell me something, give me some hope," she said as she stood in line to meet with representatives of Bell Helicopter. The company is owned by Textron, Cessna's parent company.

Phaysom's unemployment benefits ran out months ago. And although her husband still has his job at Cessna, "This is very stressful," she said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or [email protected].