WICHITA, Kan. If Wichita and other areas are to remain key aviation clusters for years to come, they must continue to innovate, globalize, and train and keep talent.
Those are the issues facing the United States aviation industry if it is to maintain its global leadership, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC.
Growth isn't limited to those clusters, however, the study said. Suppliers are spreading across the U.S. and to Mexico.
Rolland Vincent, an aviation consultant with Rolland Vincent Associates, said he thinks Wichita will remain a key aviation cluster, despite the departure of Boeing, the consolidation of Cessna and Beechcraft and recent layoffs at Bombardier Learjet.
"It ebbs and flows," Vincent said. "Markets come and go, and other cities want what Wichita has. ... You only have a few cities that even hope to compete."
Wichita's aviation industry is two-fold: commercial aerospace and general aviation.
In general aviation, "the good news is that Textron Aviation, which includes Cessna and Beechcraft, has over half of the world's turbine fleet. That doesn't count the Learjet fleet out there. That's an amazing supply of parts and customers," Vincent said. "There's so much activity there."
The brands are strong.
"People don't walk away from these companies or these brands easily," he said. "Most customers are conservative. They don't buy very often so they stock to what they know. They know Cessna. They know Learjets."
It's up to the Wichita companies to develop products customers want, however, he said.
Surveys done by Vincent ask about their buying intentions.
They show that the middle of the business jet market, everything from the Citation Latitude to Bombardier's Challenger 350, is what they say they plan to buy, he said.
Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said there is some risk to Wichita's cluster.
"It's a combination of unfortunate developments, but none of them speak to Wichita's competitiveness," Aboulafia said. "Having heavy exposure to the bottom half of the business jet market, that's just the wrong place to be. But still, that's more of an accident of history than the result of workforce skills or anything like that."
That won't be an issue if the small- and mid-size business jet market recovers in a couple of years, he said.
Cessna is investing in the future, even it has stumbled in the past, he said. And Beechcraft's acquisition by Cessna's parent company, Textron, has stabilized the company.
"Everything in the world of aircraft is doing just fine, except for the bottom half of the business jet market," he said.
While much of the aviation market has recovered, Wichita also is being hit by the loss of Boeing, which is closing its Wichita defense facility and moving the programs elsewhere.