Aviation executives and state political leaders said Friday the industry is growing in Delaware despite a recent report ranking the First State middle of all states in terms of total employment and per capita economic impact.
“Obviously Delaware is doing something right because the general aviation sector just keeps growing here, but we can do more,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons at a rally to support the industry in Delaware.
The event, organized by the industry trade group General Aviation Manufacturers Association, or GAMA, was held at the New Castle Airport. Other political leaders who attended the event included Gov. Jack Markell, Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. John Carney. Aviation executives who spoke were Stephen Gross, vice president of sales at FlightSafety International, John Rosanvallon, President and CEO of Dassault Falcon Jet, and Ralph Kunz, vice-president and general manager of Summit Aviation.
GAMA has organized similar rallies in 14 states.
Speakers said the aviation manufacturing industry has benefited the Delaware economy, creating 2,600 jobs and generating $588 million in annual economic output. That ranks Delaware 26th among U.S. states on a per capita basis, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released in February based on 2013 data.
In terms of total per capita gross domestic product impact, Delaware again finished in the middle. The $316 million generated on a per capital basis also placed Delaware 26th among states.
The study also ranked Delaware near the bottom in terms of total labor income impact at $43 million. Only the District of Columbia, Wyoming and Rhode Island saw less of an impact from the aviation industry. Delaware also finished ahead of only nine states in terms of total industry employment as a percentage of the state economy. Roughly 0.5 percent of all Delaware workers are in aviation.
Markell said after the rally Delaware needs to be evaluated on a per capita basis because of its size. He also said the industry has grown in Delaware since the study was completed.
“If you think about where we were a few years ago and look at the growth of these companies,” he said.
The governor highlighted Dassault Falcon, a French company that provides hanger space, maintenance and fuel to charter services. Since arriving at New Castle Airport 15 years, the company has grown to employ 400 people within the state.
FlightSafety, meanwhile, a manufacturer of flight simulators to train pilots, has brought 6,000 students a year to Delaware. That translates into money spent on hotel rooms, meals, airfares and rental cars, pumping $50 million into the state.
“That is real dollars to the Delaware economy,” said FlightSafety’s Gross.
Markell said these and other companies are in Delaware because of the state’s commitment to aviation. He cited Delaware Technical Community College’s aviation training facility at the Sussex County Airport. Students in the training program will learn aviation maintenance and other technical skills.
“These guys could go in a heartbeat,” the governor said. “They could be at any airport in the country and they are staying here and growing.”
An often repeated theme at the rally was need for skilled workers for high-paying jobs in the industry.
“Our industry is in peril,” said Summit’s Kunz. “We do not have enough young people coming to the industry. If your nieces and nephews, sons and daughters are going to college we can employ them as engineers, in business and as analysts. If they are not college bound we can employ them as mechanics.”
Coons agreed with Kunz, noting every company involved in the rally is currently hiring.
“These can between 20-to-40 dollar an hour jobs,” he said. “These are jobs you can raise a family on.”