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OK: Aviation Leaders Discuss OKC's Future as an Aerospace Hub

28 Dec, 2020


Top executives from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, Kratos and Skydweller recently participated in a webinar to discuss why Oklahoma City has been successful as an aerospace hub. The webinar was put on by the UAS Cluster Initiative to further their goal of strengthening the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) industry in Oklahoma.
 
Oklahoma City is home to 236 aerospace companies that employ 36,600 workers and creates nearly $5 billion in goods and services.
 
According to Jeff Seymour, executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, about 66% of work done in the region centers around maintenance, repair and overhaul operations but that is changing.
 
“We are very proud of the growth we’ve seen in the aerospace sector,” said Seymour. “Traditional most of our strength has been centered on maintenance, repair and overhaul but that is diversifying as more companies are bringing manufacturing capabilities to our region.”
 
Michelle Coppedge, executive director of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, was also quick to point on how rapidly the aerospace industry is changing.
 
“We are at a pivotal point with change in aerospace,” said Coppedge. “It is rapidly evolving before our eyes. The very definition of aerospace is being challenged right now.”
 
Coppedge used the FAA’s approval of Amazon delivery drones, NASA’s recent announcement of research into flying taxis and the creation of the new Space Task Force to highlight just how much the industry is evolving.
 
The role of the FAA is to integrate all those future users seamlessly into the national air space system. It is a massive undertaking and a lot of that works happens in Oklahoma City.
 
The Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center is the largest FAA center in the country outside of Washington D.C. Even some residents might not truly understand the center’s scope and impact on the local economy.
 
The center encompasses 138 buildings spread across 110 acres and 3.3-million-square feet of industrial, lab, classroom and administrative space. It is the second-largest employer in Oklahoma City with around 6,300 employees and an operating budget of more than $1 billion annually.
 
How did the center’s presence grow to be so big in Oklahoma City?
 
“We have a very strong talent pool in the state and there are excellent resource pipelines through multiple universities to grow more talent,” said Coppedge. “We also have had great community support.”
 
Coppedge also said the affordable cost structure in Oklahoma is a huge asset to their operations.
 
Like Coppedge, Fendley also pointed to the local talent pool and affordable cost structure as reasons they located in Oklahoma City.
 
Kratos manufactures high-performance, low-cost jet aerial systems and first expanded to Oklahoma City a couple of years back. In just a short time, the company has expanded its size by 50% and added a second production line. They build complete aircraft systems in their Oklahoma City operations and they plan to add more than 350 workers over the next five years.
 
One of Kratos’ initial reservations about locating in Oklahoma City has quickly been put to rest.
 
“Our home base is California and one of our main concerns was if we could get any of the key people to transition from California to Oklahoma,” said Fendley. “Let me tell you it has been easy. We have people daily asking us if they can transition (to Oklahoma City).”
 
“Governor Stitt has continually reached out to ask how they can help,” said Miller. “That is so important for a startup. The Department of Commerce and Greater Oklahoma City Chamber have also been fantastic in helping us stand up our business here. It is that culture of the can do.”
 
Skydweller is a next-generation aerospace company that is developing a perpetual endurance unnamed aircraft. In June, they announced Oklahoma City as its U.S. corporate headquarters.
 
“We are trying to do things that nobody has ever done before and that is exciting,” said Miller. “We are bringing jobs but not just any kind of jobs. These are cutting edge and people will be working on an aviation first.”
 
Miller invoked Oklahoma’s historical connection to the aviation industry.  
 
“Going back to Wiley Post, Oklahomans have been involved with aviation since the very beginning and we hope to continue that tradition,” said Miller.
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