By D.R. Stewart
Oklahoma's long and colorful aviation history is part of the fabric of the state, and its economic contributions have sustained it through wars and recessions, Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday.
Speaking at the 2012 Partnership Conference - sponsored by the Oklahoma Airport Operators Association, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration Southwest Region Airports Division - Fallin said the Oklahoma aviation industry precedes statehood.
The governor spoke before 350 people at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center.
While Oklahoma's oil boom was beginning with the drilling of the Ida E. Glenn No. 1 well 10 miles south of Tulsa in 1905, Clyde Cessna began flying his first airplane, Fallin said.
"Another Oklahoman named Wiley Post discovered the jet stream and twice set records for flying aircraft around the world," she said. "He invented the first pressurized space suit," refinements of which were used by fellow Oklahomans and astronauts Gordon Cooper and Gen. Thomas Stafford, the governor said.
Components of the spacecraft flown in the Apollo moon program of the 1960s and 1970s as well as parts of NASA's space shuttle were built in Tulsa at Rockwell International Corp., which became Spirit AeroSystems Inc., Fallin said.
"We just recently announced 1,000 new jobs are moving to Oklahoma from California and Kansas by Boeing," she said.
Airlines have had a major influence on the state, Fallin said, first with Braniff International Airways, which began flying between Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 1928 before it expanded worldwide, and then with American Airways, which became American Airlines, an employer of 7,000 people at its Maintenance & Engineering Center in Tulsa.
"We have over 600 aerospace-related companies in our state," Fallin said. "Oklahoma is one of seven (aircraft) maintenance centers in the world. Oklahoma also is home to the largest aircraft repair facility in the world - Tinker Air Force Base (in Oklahoma City), which provides 20,000 jobs and a $3.3 billion economic impact."
The FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City employs 7,500 people, trains the nation's air traffic controllers and is the destination for world-class aviation training for thousands of people around the world, Fallin said.
The state's two major airports, Tulsa International Airport and Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, connect with 19 nonstop destinations around the world and are home to 23,000 jobs, Fallin said.
But it is Oklahoma's network of small, general aviation airports that are vital to the state's air transportation system, the governor said.
"General aviation is the connector. We think general aviation airports are analogous to the state and federal highway system," she said. "Ninety-seven percent of Oklahoma's population lives within 30 minutes of our general aviation business airports. ... They are essential to moving business or commerce throughout our state."
Fallin said aviation and aerospace jobs are economically important to Oklahoma because they pay nearly twice as much - $54,719 annually - compared with median jobs in the state.
Aviation and aerospace directly and indirectly employ 144,000 people and pump $5 billion in payroll into the state annually, Fallin said.
"(Microsoft founder) Bill Gates said the airplane is the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing," Fallin said. "Aircraft, airports and technology changed the world and are very important for our nation."