The Norman Transcript

Local Business

April 18, 2009

Bird stresses importance of Norman's airport, state's aviation industry

A state aeronautics official said this week that regional business airports and Oklahoma's aviation repair and maintenance industry are two of the best economic drivers in the state, and the state needs to continue to work hard to keep it that way.

Victor Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, told members of the Norman Chamber of Commerce's aviation committee Tuesday that a bill passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last year will be instrumental in attracting engineers to the state's aviation and aerospace industry, which is the top employer in the state including military bases.

The Oklahoma Aerospace Engineering Industry bill offers $5,000 in tax credits annually for five years to engineers who choose to go to work for an aviation firm in the state.

Bird said the aviation and aerospace industry is the state's top employer with 150,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"What that equals is a $5 billion payroll a year. A $12.5 billion industrial output. That's 10 percent of Oklahoma's economy," Bird said. "One in 10 Oklahomans derive their income from the aviation industry."

Tinker Air Force Base employs about 27,000 people and is the military's largest maintenance facility. American Airlines maintenance facility in Tulsa employs about 7,000 and is the largest commercial maintenance facility in the country.

"We fix aircraft well here," he said. "That's why Oklahoma is really faring fairly well and I think we'll continue."

Even though there have been some layoffs in the industry, the state has not suffered the same effects of the economic downtown that other areas have, including aviation companies in Wichita, Kan., laying off about 10,000 employees, with another about 10,000 laid off by Boeing.

Bird said the state's 49 regional business, jet-capable airports help fuel economic development by making it easier for corporations to do business away from major airline hubs.

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