10 Great Places for Aviation and Aerospace
By Jennifer LeClaire
Aviation companies have been doing business in the South for decades, and aerospace firms have set up shop to research, develop and assemble next-generation crafts in Southern states for just as long. That’s because the South offers key ingredients for aviation and aerospace success.
With the South’s affordable land, highly skilled labor force, lower cost of doing business, rich military history, and growing population base, it’s no wonder the aviation and aerospace sectors are still rapidly growing in the region. Indeed, the conditions that bred aviation and aerospace success decades ago are still available today. New success factors also have emerged, such as Southern university research facilities that have matured and attracted world-class scientists and engineers to support research and development.
While several markets across the South are strong locations for aviation and aerospace companies, a few communities are truly standouts. We’ve profiled them here: 10 Great Places for Aviation and Aerospace.
Savannah got a head start in the aerospace industry when Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. landed there in 1958. Gulfstream recently announced a $300 million, seven-year expansion. The city also is home to Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart military bases, which provide significant benefits for aviation firms. Hunter's 11,375-foot-long runway supports the installation's rapid deployment needs and virtually any aircraft of any size can land there. In fact, Hunter Army Airfield has the unique distinction of being an alternate landing site for NASA's Space Shuttles. Local Savannah/Hilton Head International is Georgia's second-busiest airport and one of the fastest-growing airports in the Southeast.
Mobile’s aerospace community boasts the Brookley Industrial Complex, a former U.S. Air Force base that has been transformed into a leading industrial and trade complex sitting on 1,700 acres only minutes from downtown. Brookley is built around a fully operational airfield with a 9,600-foot runway and 4.5 million square feet of building space along with acreage for industrial sites. In 2006, Brookley was selected by EADS North America as the site for the EADS KC-330 advanced tanker U.S. production facility. An Airbus Engineering Center is co-located with the future production facility and began operations in 2006. This facility supports continuing engineering work on commercial Airbus models and military derivative aircraft. Brookley Industrial Complex also offers access to a deepwater port, two major Interstate connections – I-65 and I-10 – and six railroad lines. Infrastructure is in place to build two major airports capable of landing the Space Shuttle.
Wichita has dubbed itself “Air Capital of the World” – and with good reason. More than half of all U.S.-made aircraft came from Wichita in 2005, and about 57 percent of all manufacturing jobs — nearly 34,000 workers — are in aviation. Many famous aircraft, including Beech, Boeing, Cessna and Learjet, are produced in the city. >From sheet-metal workers to engineers, the companies attract a high-quality workforce, one that feeds aviation and has skills applicable to other industries. At the heart of composites research is Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research. The FAA-designated center for composites research is developing national standards for composite materials used in aircraft manufacturing.
Little Rock, Ark.
Little Rock National Airport occupies a site on the 2,200-acre Adams Field and handles about 2.6 million passengers annually. More than $170 million in capital improvements were made at the airport during the 1990s. The site is adjacent to Interstate 440, only two miles from Interstate 30, and within one mile of the Little Rock Port facility. The Metro Little Rock region is one of the world's largest jet completion centers. Dassault Falcon and Raytheon Aircraft call the Little Rock National Airport home. Raytheon is expanding its aircraft completions facilities there. The $16.3 million expansion will provide the space needed to finish the paint and interior of the flagship of its Hawker product line.
Huntsville/Madison County and Redstone Arsenal play a vital role in U.S. Army programs for missiles and aviation. More than half of the Army's weapons procurement budget is managed by agencies at Redstone and so are more than half of the Army's foreign weapons sales. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, also at Redstone, is a key to the nation's space propulsion and scientific missions programs. Almost every major U.S. aerospace corporation has a presence in the community, with more than 250 companies employing 27,000 people. In total, more than 44,000 workers are directly involved in the local aerospace and defense industries.
Also known as Rotor City, Amarillo is mission-ready and business-focused. The aircraft assembly industry landed in Amarillo in a big way in 1998 when Bell Helicopter Textron chose it as the location for its Tiltroter Assembly Center. Amarillo’s mid-continent location offers a strategic transportation infrastructure where Interstates 40 and 27 intersect. Two mainlines of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway also run through Amarillo. The city is home to the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, one of the longest commercial concrete runways in the world at 13,502 feet long by 300 feet wide, capable of accommodating any aircraft. The site features several hundred acres of land for aviation industrial development.
Dallas-Fort Worth, Tex.
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, located 18 miles from Fort Worth and 15 miles from Dallas, is fourth-busiest airport in the United States with an average 2,000 daily departures and arrivals. DFW International Airport was named best Cargo Airport in the World by Air Cargo World Magazine (March 2006). The DFW region is centrally located within the United States, with access to either coast within four hours’ fly time. The region is home to 250 aviation and aerospace businesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Bell Helicopter Textron, American Eurocopter, Aviall, Vought Aircraft Industries and FedEx.
Hampton has a long history in the aerospace industry beginning in 1917 with NASA Langley Research Center, the first civilian aeronautics laboratory and the training site for the Mercury Astronauts program. Today, NASA Langley is involved in improving military and civilian aircraft, while designing tomorrow’s jets. The National Institute of Aerospace, a non-profit research and graduate institute that conducts leading-edge aerospace and atmospheric research and develops new technologies for the nation, is also located there. Just outside the gates of NASA Langley and Langley Air Force Base are three major business parks – the Hampton Roads Center’s South, Central and North campuses, along with the Langley Research and Development and Central Park – all of which have aerospace and high-tech tenants. The proximity of these parks and NASA make this location a hot spot for high-tech companies, especially those in aerospace, modeling, and simulation and aviation.
Lake Charles, La.
The Chennault International Airport sits on 1,600 acres, with 600 acres available for development in southwest Louisiana. Chennault, a foreign trade zone and an enterprise zone, is home to Northrop Grumman & EADS Aeroframe Services and other leading aviation companies. The airport has a 10,701-foot runway and a non-precision approach runway. Lake Charles is located on the Calcasieu River, 34 miles north of Louisiana’s Gulf of Mexico coastline, 143 miles east of Houston, and 230 miles west of New Orleans. Lake Charles is connected to the Gulf by a deep-water ship channel and is the seat and port of entry of Calcasieu Parish.
The Ardmore Industrial Airpark sits on 2,200 acres of land strategically located nine miles from Interstate 35, midway between Dallas and Oklahoma City. King Aerospace, Lakeland Aviation and Higgins Interiors, among others, take advantage of the enterprise zone designation. This former Air Force base offers 5 million square feet of ramp and two runways with landing lights. The longest is 7,202 feet. Major infrastructure improvements under way for the Airpark include the creation of an air cargo hub and an international trade center. The park has space for 1.5 million square feet of new hangars and is ideal for aviation maintenance and repair stations, airfreight companies or manufacturers.