December 7, 2011 By Daniel McCoy
Top executives from five of Wichita’s largest aviation manufacturers on Wednesday said they see recovery in the business jet market and rapid growth in commercial aviation on the horizon. And to keep up with rising demand, they are going to need more workers.
“We have to find these people,” said Ralph Acs, vice president and general manager of Bombardier Learjet . “And it’s not just the numbers of people – it’s finding the right people.” Acs was one of the panelists at the Wichita Aero Club’s 2011 On-Air Summit, which was held Wednesday at the Hilton Wichita Airport.
He was joined by Jeff Turner, CEO of Spirit AeroSystems Inc. ; John O’Leary, vice president for engineering at Airbus North American Engineering Inc.; Mark Paolucci, Cessna Aircraft Co. ‘s senior vice president for sales; and Bill Boisture, CEO of Hawker Beechcraft Corp.
The panel discussion, which was moderated by Fred George, senior editor of Business and Commercial Aviation magazine, covered both where the aviation industry has been and where the leaders believe it’s going.
George began the event by quoting the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”
That’s because for Wichita, he said, it has been the best of times and the worst of times.
While the business and general aviation market has remained depressed, the commercial aviation market is booming.
For commercial suppliers such as Spirit, the continued boom will mean a need for workers both within the company and in the supply chain, Turner said.
And there will be a great need to begin replacing what is already an aging work force.
“We have this huge pool of people,” Turner said. “We’ve got to be able to replace them.”
O’Leary, of Airbus, said the unprecedented growth of commercial aviation will present plenty of opportunities for Wichita. But being able to react to the demand will be critical.
“Hopefully we don’t come back in two or three years and say we had an opportunity and we didn’t jump at it,” he said.
On the general aviation side of things, the key is finding the right people to help companies take advantage of an eventual market rebound.
And although they general aviation leaders all expected 2012 to be a lot like 2011, they want to have the people they need in place for what they hope is a busy 2013.
And that’s not always easy, Hawker’s Boisture said, recalling a quote he once heard from Ross Perot.
“You catch an eagle one at a time,” he said.
But if there’s anyplace that can meet the work force demand for specifically-skilled workers, it’s Wichita, said Tony Kinkel, president of Wichita Area Technical College, after the panel discussion.
“No other city in America is better equipped to meet that demand,” he said. “But we still have to ratchet up our efforts.”
Source: WICHITA BUSINESS JOURNAL