The Edmond Sun

Opinion

July 2, 2012

Oklahoma continues to be an aerospace leader

OKLA. CITY — When it comes to bringing more and better jobs to the state of Oklahoma, one of the most important and promising sectors of our economy is represented by the aerospace industry.

Oklahoma is already a national leader in aerospace, with more than $12.5 billion in annual industrial output and exports of $4.4 billion to 170 countries.

More than 150,000 Oklahoma jobs are supported by aerospace, with an annual payroll of $5 billion.

Even better, these jobs represent high-skill, high-salary work: The average aerospace employee makes nearly twice the average salary in Oklahoma.

Many of those workers are employed at the unique facilities that make the state a national leader in the industry. For instance, the American Airlines Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul center in Tulsa is the largest commercial MRO facility in the world, and one of only seven of its kind. Additionally, Tinker Air Force Base houses the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, the largest depot operated by the U.S. Department of Defense. And on the civilian side, the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center is the Federal Aviation Administration’s central support and training facility in the U.S., employing 5,500 Oklahomans and training more than 20,000 students each year.

All of this means that aerospace and aviation will continue to be a big part of Oklahoma’s economy for years to come. Our challenge as a state is to continue to build on our momentum and to ensure that new technologies and opportunities continue to make their way here.

One of the most exciting opportunities on that front exists in the area of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Right now, UAS technology is the single fastest growing area within the aerospace industry, with an extremely diverse array of potential applications. Knowing that Oklahoma must attract UAS business to stay competitive in the aerospace industry, I created the Unmanned Aerospace Systems Council last year, with the goal of making Oklahoma the No. 1 place to do UAS research and development in the country.

Last week, I was excited to announce the council has achieved a significant victory and Oklahoma has gained an important foothold in the industry. Impressed by Oklahoma’s existing UAS knowledge, labor pool, access to restricted airspace and number of clear flying days, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate has chosen Oklahoma as the test site for the new Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety Program.

The program will research and test small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the restricted airspace near Fort Sill, focusing on possible applications for first responders, including search and rescue scenarios, response to radiological and chemical incidents and fire response and mapping. It’s an exciting opportunity for Oklahoma to be involved with a program with the potential to provide life-saving technology. Just ask Adjutant Gen. Myles Deering of the Oklahoma National Guard, who lead 23,000 guardsmen in the recovery operations after Hurricane Katrina. As Deering told reporters last week, UAS technology would have provided the type of quick ground mapping and situational awareness that the Guard needed to respond to events on the ground and work to save lives, all for a fraction of the cost of using manned aerial vehicles.

The RAPS program represents a $1.4 million investment in Oklahoma in year one, with the potential for considerable growth. More importantly, it sends a signal that the state continues to be open for business, both in the area of UAS research and development and in the broader aerospace industry.

Moving forward, my administration will continue to focus on ways to bring exciting new technologies, research and investment into the state of Oklahoma. RAPS is one example of the many ways in which we are working to make the state a research leader in our region, and to benefit from the jobs and economic growth that come with that work.

GOV. MARY FALLIN, R-Edmond, may be reached via her website at www.ok.gov/governor.

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Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

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