Category Archives: Aviation

Congratulations to McConnell on its tanker win

Wichita got a great, well-timed boost with today’s news that McConnell Air Force Base will be the main active-duty operating base for the KC-46A tankers, emerging the winner in the 54-base field. McConnell also was in the running to become a formal training base for the new tankers, a job won by Altus, Okla. But McConnell got what it wanted most with the Air Force’s decision, meaning it can expect to receive 36 new tankers in 2016 and the jobs and economic benefits of hosting them. That’s the perfect role for McConnell, which is currently the world’s largest tanker base, with 62 KC-135s, and the home of the Air Force’s 22nd Air Refueling Wing and the Air Force Reserves’ 931st Air Refueling Group. So even though Boeing Wichita won’t help build the tankers after all, due to Boeing’s decision to leave town by the end of this year, many of those planes will end up calling Wichita home. As Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said in a statement: “We’re thrilled that McConnell AFB has been recognized as an indispensable part of America’s defenses and excited about the opportunities this creates for the rest of Kansas.” Congratulations and thanks to all who fought for and won this exciting new role for McConnell and Wichita.

Update regulations, revitalize general aviation

Good for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, for trying to lower costs and increase innovation in the general aviation industry. Pompeo and four other lawmakers have introduced the Light Aircraft Revitalization Act, which would implement regulatory changes recommended by a Federal Aviation Administration committee of aviation authorities and industry representatives. Congress needs to review these recommendations to make sure they wouldn’t compromise safety. But Pompeo contends that the slow and burdensome certification process keeps products out of the market that could actually improve safety.

Congress should act on more than FAA furloughs

At least Congress proved last week that it still has the ability to pass legislation when a crisis arises, in this case the sequestration cuts that prompted furloughs of air traffic controllers and many flight delays. Both chambers quickly passed a bill giving the Obama administration flexibility to move money among Transportation Department accounts. As Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a dogged critic of the Federal Aviation Administration’s sequestration decisions, said Thursday night: “This bipartisan solution is a victory for air travelers and communities nationwide.” Still, it was hard to disagree with comments along the lines of this tweet: “Sequester Head Start classrooms, deny cancer patients, reduce Meals on Wheels, but don’t delay a senator’s flight!”

Push-back on closing air towers transcends party, geography

“We don’t have the money to keep the towers open. We simply don’t,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a House committee last week. But the fight against LaHood’s plan to close 149 air-traffic control towers is strong and bipartisan, spanning the likes of Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan., and actor and pilot Harrison Ford. “General aviation is more than guys in corporate aircraft,” Ford told Bloomberg. “It’s police and fire services. It’s EMS. It’s a guy flying his fish to market. It’s tractor parts getting to a rancher or a farmer. It’s a broad range of businesses that are affected.” On the administration’s plan, Moran told Bloomberg: “There’s a rural aspect to it that certainly catches my attention, but it’s more a belief in government doing its job responsibly as compared to seat of the pants.”

It makes sense for REAP to oversee airfare program

Good for Kansas House budget negotiators for reinstating $5 million in state aid to bolster air service in Wichita and Garden City. The Kansas Affordable Airfares Program is key to economic development. But it’s strange that some lawmakers now want the funding to go directly to Sedgwick and Finney counties’ governments rather than through the Regional Economic Area Partnership of south-central Kansas, which has managed the program for years at the state’s request. It makes sense for REAP to oversee the funding, as the airports serve many counties. Was this move prompted by REAP’s support of sustainable planning, which some people think is a U.N. plot?

Brewer, Pompeo united on Obama’s jet rhetoric

A Reuters article examines the impact on Wichita of President Obama’s bad-mouthing of business jets and push for a seven-year depreciation schedule for private-plane buyers. “I’m certainly disappointed that he would do something of this nature. As long as you’re doing something to threaten my aviation industry … I’ll continue to speak out against it,” Mayor Carl Brewer told Reuters, which noted Brewer is a Democrat who has Obama’s portrait on his wall. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said: “It’s so frustrating. All the aviation manufacturers want is for him to stop talking down their industry. Don’t write them a check, don’t give them a tax credit, don’t hand them a subsidy. Stop bashing them.”

Could Kansas become the drone capital of the world?

A week after participating in the Senate filibuster on drones, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., announced that Kansas is one of the top 10 states predicted to benefit the most as production of unmanned aerial systems increases. Moran, who is a member of a Senate UAS caucus (who knew that existed?), cited a new report estimating a projected economic impact in Kansas of $2.9 billion and an estimated 3,716 new jobs between 2015 and 2025. “Kansas already boasts the necessary attributes to manage UAS activities: airspace for UAS operations; multiple airport support facilities; university research and development on sensors, airframes and engines; university flight and operations training; and avionics development and manufacturing capabilities,” Moran said in a statement, adding that “the future for UAS in Kansas – the Air Capital of the World – is bright.” Meanwhile, a bill in the Legislature, House Bill 2394, would prohibit the operation of drones in Kansas while carrying a lethal payload and prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to collect evidence.

Senators plead with defense secretary they voted against

Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, deserve credit for tenacity in protesting the Air Force’s recent decision to pass over Wichita-based Beechcraft and instead give a $427.5 million light-air support contract to Sierra Nevada Corp. and Brazil-based Embraer. That order, which will supply 20 airplanes to Afghanistan’s air force, would have given Beechcraft a big boost post-bankruptcy. The Kansans sent a letter Friday to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting a “thorough, compelling explanation for your decision” and saying the award “raises significant concerns for the entire U.S. defense industrial base.” It’s awkward, however, that just two weeks ago the two Kansas senators voted against Hagel’s confirmation as defense secretary.

Obama still wrong on general-aviation tax break

It was frustrating to hear how White House press secretary Jay Carney views the aviation job losses that could come with President Obama’s proposed elimination of a tax break for corporate and private jet owners: “I would say that making choices about budgets and deficit reduction always involves difficult choices,” Carney told reporters include KAKE News anchor Susan Peters last week, also characterizing the break as among “narrow special interest loopholes.” The president didn’t help his message much in Wichita when he earlier told Peters himself: “The reason people buy corporate jets is because it’s extremely convenient and they can afford it. And they don’t need an extra tax break, especially at a time when we’re trying to reduce the deficit. Something’s got to give.” That “something” should not be more of the aviation-manufacturing workforce in Wichita. The 27-year-old tax break allows general-aviation aircraft to be depreciated over five years rather than seven. Getting rid of it would generate $300 million a year – not enough to make a different in the deficit but enough to deter jet shopping.

WATC proving value of its degrees

The Wichita Area Technical College is demonstrating the impressive value of its degrees among employers, even in a lackluster economy. WATC’s survey of 90 percent of its fall graduates revealed that 97 percent of them had found jobs already, mostly in the area. Meanwhile, spring enrollment is 19 percent higher than last spring, just as last fall saw a 25 percent increase over fall 2011. Much of the momentum can be linked to WATC’s strengthened partnership with USD 259, and to the state funding made available by the career and technical education initiative promoted by Gov. Sam Brownback. But credit also is due WATC president Tony Kinkel and the elected officials at all levels, led by Sedgwick County commissioners, who pressed ahead with the funding and construction of the National Center for Aviation Training, one of WATC’s three campuses. Because they didn’t let the downturn cloud their foresight about workforce needs, Wichita-area employers are able to look to WATC for the workers they need now.

Southwest flights are great news for Wichita

It is great news – both for business and leisure travelers – that Southwest Airlines has committed to operating five daily flights from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, starting June 2. The discount carrier will have two daily flights to Dallas, two to Chicago and one to Las Vegas. The only unfortunate news in the announcement Monday was that Wichita will lose its three daily AirTran Airways flights to Atlanta. But the Southwest flights to three major markets will more than make up for this loss.

End of Learjet strike a win for community

Congratulations to the leaders on both sides of the negotiating table at the Machinists union and Bombardier Learjet, whose efforts led to Saturday’s vote to approve the contract offer and Monday’s end of the five-week strike. The best feature of the new five-year contract is that it gets Learjet’s skilled workers back to the business of manufacturing outstanding aircraft that will be needed as the economy rebounds.

Coliseum’s conversion is exciting to see

It is exciting to see the former Britt Brown Arena at the Kansas Coliseum complex being transformed into the Aircraft Structural Testing and Evaluation Center, an expansion of the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University. Developer Johnny Stevens and NIAR are remodeling the arena so that NIAR can conduct structural tests on aircraft as big as Boeing 737s and 787s. Work at the center is expected to begin within a month, and the offices are scheduled to be open the first week of January. The new center will further enhance Wichita’s stature as an aviation manufacturing and research hub.

With Chinese deal off, Beechcraft has welcome new name, focus

The latest turn of events in Hawker Beechcraft’s bankruptcy raises new questions for workers and the community, but at least ends the worrying about the company’s future under Chinese ownership. Wichita should welcome the stand-alone company’s familiar new name, Beechcraft Corp., and narrowed focus on the products it makes most profitably – turboprop, piston, special mission and trainer/attack aircraft – and its high margin parts, maintenance, repairs and refurbishment businesses. The proposed $1.9 billion purchase by Superior Aircraft Beijing always seemed like a stretch, and left a question mark over the defense business. (At least the Wichita company gets to keep Superior’s $50 million deposit.) Now the concern shifts to what will become of the Hawker jet lines. “The go-forward business plan we have developed with our creditors ensures that we will emerge from this process in a strong operational and financial position, with an enhanced ability to compete well into the future,” Hawker Beechcraft CEO Steve Miller said in a Thursday statement. Now elected officials need to be engaged with Miller and other executives to ensure that Wichita and Kansas are as crucial to Beechcraft’s future as they’ve been to its past.

More jet-bashing from president

During Wednesday’s debate, President Obama again felt the need to single out the owners of corporate jets as worthy of higher taxes – a contention that mischaracterizes the role of business jets in the economy and understandably pains planemakers and their employees in Wichita. The president asked: “Why wouldn’t we eliminate tax breaks for corporate jets? My attitude is, if you got a corporate jet, you can probably afford to pay full freight, not get a special break for it.” That’s a reference to the accelerated depreciation of business jets that was part of Obama’s own 2009 stimulus package. Increasing the depreciation life from five years to seven years would increase tax revenue by about $3 billion over 10 years, having little impact on the federal deficit. Obama’s comment drew this response Wednesday night from Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association: “At a time when both candidates claim to be putting job creation at the top of their agenda, it’s unfortunate that the president tonight denigrated the business aviation industry, which is responsible for 1.2 million American jobs and $150 billion in economic impact.”

Support our local air force base

The question of whether Sedgwick County should spend $10,000 on a hospitality tent for the Wings Over McConnell air show this weekend got a lot of attention, with commissioners having a worthwhile debate about such taxpayer-funded perks before voting 3-2 Wednesday to contribute $10,000 to the event but not use a tent. The dollars involved are minuscule in the context of the county’s $408 million annual budget and McConnell Air Force Base’s $500 million annual economic impact on the community. Plus, the city of Wichita contributed $15,000 to the show. But at least the controversy brought attention to McConnell and its value to Wichita and Sedgwick County, and reminded the public to get out this weekend to enjoy the air show (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) and support the base. Bigger issues about McConnell loom, as the Kansas congressional delegation advocates for basing the new KC-46A tanker fleet there amid talk of deep defense spending cuts and, eventually, more base closings.

Kansas should be hard to miss at Farnborough

Good for Gov. Sam Brownback and Commerce Secretary Pat George for planning to join representatives of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition in promoting Kansas-made aircraft at the Farnborough International Airshow in England Monday through July 15. Wichita’s aircraft makers are Kansas’ biggest exporter, representing more than 18 percent of all exports from the state. The bigger and more prominent the presence of Wichita’s planemakers at such an international air show, the louder the message will be about how the Air Capital of the World can serve the world marketplace for aircraft.

Step closer to new airport terminal

It was encouraging last week to see Wichita’s bid board unanimously decline Dondlinger and Sons’ appeal in the airport terminal contract dispute, which centers on whether the local company and Indianapolis partner Hunt Construction Group met the rules requiring a good faith effort to land enough disadvantaged subcontractors. Obviously, the construction partners were frustrated to see their low bid of $99.4 million lose out to Wichita-based Key Construction and Detroit-based Wallbridge, which won the contract with their second-lowest bid of $101.5 million, and Dondlinger and Hunt can still try to make their case to the City Council and perhaps the courts. But it’s important that Wichita Mid-Continent Airport’s long-delayed terminal project get going, and not do anything to jeopardize its federal funding. The bid board’s move was a step closer to the goal of getting the terminal built and open for business.

Alabama toasting French company

“Years from now, we may look back on the Fourth of July week in 2012 as the time when the tide turned for Mobile. Imagine telling future generations how a French company planted a flag deep in U.S. soil on the Gulf Coast – allowing Mobile to get on the world map in aerospace,” editorialized the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., noting that Airbus’ plan to build a $600 million assembly plant in town had been aptly code-named “Hope.” Editorial cartoonist J.D. Crowe was more blunt, blogging Tuesday: “As we celebrate America’s birthday, Mobile will also be toasting our new business partner with French Champagne. Meanwhile, in places like Seattle, crybaby Boeing will be gargling its cheap whine.” Boeing’s reaction to its rival’s announcement had been less than welcoming: “While it is interesting once again to see Airbus promising to move jobs from Europe to the United States, no matter how many are created, the numbers pale in comparison to the thousands of U.S. jobs destroyed by illegal subsidies.”

More uncertainty for Beechcraft families

Another 125 area families are facing an uncertain future this weekend because of the latest layoff notices issued Friday by Hawker Beechcraft as the company focuses on “balancing our production rate with the challenging and rapidly changing environment we continue to face,” to quote a letter to employees. The latest layoffs were on top of 150 in May and 350 in April, apparently bringing local employment to about 4,000. Such decisions seem consistent with the company’s strategy of reorganizing under Chapter 11 and reducing $2.5 billion in debt. But it’s hard not to worry about the workers affected, or about the company drawing closer to the 3,600-job threshold of its 2010 deal to secure state and local incentives.

Airport bottleneck calls for fourth security lane

The $110,000 proposed for a fourth security checkpoint lane at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport promises to be money well-spent in the short term, even with a new $100 million terminal planned for the long term. It’s unacceptably poor customer service that some fliers are waiting more than 30 minutes to get through security, and worse that some are missing flights. The Wichita City Council, which will consider the fourth checkpoint lane at today’s meeting, should view the expenditure (of money left over from a 2011 airport renovation project) as necessary to serve both area businesses and Mid-Continent’s reputation. And it seems urgent, as airport officials anticipate an immediate increase in passenger traffic of more than 10 percent in Southwest Airlines’ first year serving Mid-Continent.

McConnell is best base for new tankers

Good for Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, for pushing the Air Force to select McConnell Air Force Base as the main operation base for the new KC-46A tanker. In a letter this month to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the lawmakers touted how McConnell “is the option whose location, capacity and mission will best meet the needs of the U.S. Air Force.” They noted that McConnell’s geographic location provides the “strategic flexibility needed to carry out a variety of missions, both overseas and at home,” and argued that the base has the hangar, runway and ramp space to support tanker operations. Wichita was supposed to help build the new tankers, but Boeing decided to leave town and move the production work elsewhere.

NetJets order, Airbus growth are great for Wichita

NetJets’ $9.6 billion order of business jets from Cessna Aircraft and Bombardier is great news for Wichita, as is Airbus’ continued growth in Wichita and faith in the Wichita workforce. NetJets announced Monday that it will purchase up to 150 Wichita-built Cessna Citation Latitudes and up to 275 Bombardier aircraft. The order is Cessna’s largest from one buyer since the recession began. Also Monday, Airbus celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its engineering facility in Old Town (in photo). The center has grown from 27 employees to 350 – and it expects to keep growing. “There’s a reason we’re here,” said Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas. “Location, location, location. This is where the talent is.”

Things looking up for Cessna

It’s good news for Wichita and its aviation workforce that Cessna Aircraft Co. is recalling or hiring about 150 employees and increasing its sales force. Though Cessna’s hiring won’t offset the latest 350 layoffs at Hawker Beechcraft, it is one welcome indicator that the market for general aviation is showing signs of renewed life. Cessna also has seen recent upticks in orders, deliveries and revenue, helping boost owner Textron in potential investors’ eyes.

Impressive rebound for WATC

Last week’s upbeat update on the Wichita Area Technical College and National Center for Aviation Training won praise from the Sedgwick County commissioners, and no wonder. In his 15 months as WATC president, Tony Kinkel has stabilized the college’s finances and overseen its enrollment growth, including online. And an impressive 95 percent of its graduates last year either went on to the military or landed jobs in the fields in which they were training. As Kinkel noted, much of the credit for NCAT’s success goes to the commission and county, which took the initiative to build the world-class training center and pays its debt service. There are daunting challenges ahead tied to the economy, state and federal cuts, and competition posed by other schools. But Gov. Sam Brownback’s technical education initiative will be a “game changer,” Kinkel said.