Wichita hosts the world’s best known aviation cluster, and is often referred to as the “Air Capital of the World.” Aircraft and aircraft components have been built with Wichita expertise and craftsmanship for nearly 90 years. Wichita offers one of the largest aerospace labor pools and supplier networks in the world. According to a Milken Institute study, Wichita has the highest concentration of aerospace manufacturing employment and skills in the nation. About 56% of Wichita metro area manufacturing employment (53,300) – or some 29,600 persons – is in aerospace products and parts.
The Wichita area hosts four OEMs (Boeing Defense, Space & Security; Bombardier Learjet; Cessna Aircraft; and Beechcraft Corp.) Wichita is also home to an Airbus Engineering Design Center. During 2012, Wichita companies delivered 48% of all general aviation aircraft built in the United States, and accounted for 33% of global general aviation deliveries. Located in Wichita is some of the most specialized equipment in the world for metal and composite material fabrication. Decades of aircraft production has built a comprehensive network of over 200 precision machine shops, tool & die shops and other aerospace subcontract manufacturers. There are more than 40 Boeing-certified gold and silver suppliers within a 200-mile radius. Those leading edge suppliers include Spirit AeroSystems, the world’s largest independent producer of commercial aircraft structures. Wichita firms either directly manufacture, or provide critical components for, over half of all general aviation, commercial and military aircraft. Industry-specific business advantages for aviation manufacturing include exemption of commercial aircraft and components from all sales taxes (including wet leases), liberal fly-away exemption and no excise tax on jet fuel and aviation gas. Wichita’s history in aviation has positioned its state and federal elected officials well to protect and advance critical legislation.
National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University was founded in 1985, and is the largest aerospace research and development academic institution in the nation. NIAR’s 120,000 square foot facility houses 15 advanced research and testing labs, including several wind tunnels. NIAR has full-time staff of over 200 researchers, including 60 at the PhD level. NIAR provides applied research into advanced materials and composites, 3-D prototyping, aerodynamics, aircraft ageing, aircraft icing, crash dynamics and other fields critical to aircraft design and manufacturing. NIAR has been appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration as lead institution of the Center of Excellence in Composites & Advanced Materials (CECAM), which has been designated by NASA and the FAA to develop national standards for aircraft composites. NIAR accounts for over 70% of FAA-related composite research spending. According to the most recent National Science Foundation data (FY 2011), WSU ranks third among all U.S. universities in aerospace engineering research and development funding. WSU-NIAR spent $42 million on such activity during FY 2011. NIAR offers cost-effective proprietary research for private industry clients.
National Center for Aviation Training – In order to assure a steady supply of qualified workers for the regional aerospace industry, Sedgwick County Technical Education and Training Authority (SCTETA) developed the $50 million (224,000 square foot) National Center for Aviation Training. NCAT is a world-class aviation manufacturing training center on the grounds of Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita. NCAT has capacity to provide technical training for at least 1,500 students in both day and night classes. NCAT facilities allow realistic hands-on training on the latest aircraft manufacturing equipment, including a composites materials lab and an autoclave for heat-curing aviation plastics. NCAT also incorporates major new facilities for WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research. NIAR has NCAT facilities dedicated to CATIA training, composites research, non-destructive inspection and advanced joining technologies. NCAT-NIAR partnership allows NIAR to develop new materials and techniques in the lab, and then rapidly train workers in how to use them. This combination of NIAR research expertise and high-tech training facilities expedites bringing new technologies to the factory production floor. Groundbreaking occurred in March 2008, and classes at the site began in August 2010. All NCAT programs are now active. Between NCAT's aviation building and advanced manufacturing building, an entire business jet could be made from design to finish. NCAT is the centerpiece and headquarters of Wichita Area Technical College.
WIRED Grant – In June 2007 it was announced that the Wichita area had been awarded a highly-competitive $5 million U.S. Department of Labor WIRED Grant (Workforce Innovation In Regional Economic Development.) This grant is specifically targeted at accelerating development of our region’s already-prominent workforce expertise in composites and advanced materials. These revolutionary materials are critical in aerospace manufacturing. The Beechcraft Corp. pioneered composite aircraft in the 1980s with the Beechcraft Starship, and currently produces two composite aircraft – Premier 1 and Hawker 4000 Horizon business jets both have their entire fuselage made of composites. Spirit AeroSystems produces the Boeing 787 forward fuselage section – easily one of the world’s largest and most complex composite structures.