State study calls for strengthening aerospace sector

The report suggests a cooperative effort by several entities.

Published: Friday, September 25, 2009 7:00 am By: D.R. Stewart

Tulsa World

Oklahoma needs to mount a cooperative effort to retain and expand the aerospace industry, a state study has found.

"Strategic Plan For the Growth of Oklahoma's Aerospace Industry" identifies aerospace as the cornerstone of the state's economy, employing more than 143,000 people with a payroll of $4.7 billion and industrial output of $12 billion.

The report, focuses on the state's strengths and weaknesses and calls for a cooperative effort between industry, local and state governments, schools and research institutions.

Sponsors of the project were the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Tulsa Metro Chamber, Ardmore Development Authority and the Ponca City Development Authority.

Oklahoma's assets include Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, which employs 26,000 people; the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, employing 6,500 in Oklahoma City; American Airlines' Tulsa Maintenance & Engineering Center, where 7,000 are employed; Spirit AeroSystems and Nordam Group in Tulsa, which employ, respectively, 2,200 and 2,000; and 300 aerospace companies employing thousands more who produce aircraft components, sub-assemblies and repair parts.

"The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission estimates that Tinker annually outsources approximately $5 billion in contracts for MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) work; roughly only $500 million of that work is provided by Oklahoma companies," the study says.

"Capturing a larger share of those MRO contracts could provide for a growth opportunity for statewide companies.

"Independent MROs have the opportunity to bundle their offerings, making them more attractive to operators for getting more done in one spot -- reducing costs, downtime and administrative overhead."

The report also identifies opportunities for Oklahoma aerospace companies in unmanned aerial systems, intelligent systems, remote condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and integration between routine and MRO services.

But the state also has challenges to overcome in the forms of lack of research institutions, research and development funding, and science and math education, the study finds.

"Aerospace increasingly relies on new technologies and materials, yet Oklahoma's overall rating in innovation ranks them well below national averages," the report says.

"While the state has a long history of investing in science and technology, the scale of investment is lower than other states.

"Likewise, statewide efforts to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at both K-12 and post-secondary issues will drive not only the competitiveness of aerospace companies but all industries in Oklahoma that rely on technical workers."

Dennis Altendorf, aerospace consultant for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, said the report underscores the need for investment in infrastructure, research and education.

"If you're going to win big, you're going to have to bet big to grow this industry and keep it relevant," Altendorf said.

D.R. Stewart 581-8451

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