Aviation stakeholders: Industry needs additional funding, not cuts
By Scott E. Pacheco
State data that say Florida's aviation industry is in decline are hogwash, local industry representatives say.
"I about fell over," said Sean Gallagan, principal at George T. Baker Aviation School, when he heard of the state's conclusion.
"Our industry is doing very, very well," he said. "The outlook for jobs is the best it's been in almost a decade. Our actual problem is students will find a job before they graduate."
The problem is, if the state finds the industry in decline, then it would have cause to reduce funding, said Aviv Tzur, chairman of the Beacon Council's aviation committee and executive chairman of Ultimate Aircraft Composites in Fort Lauderdale. The Beacon Council is Miami-Dade's economic development arm.
"Based on their database they are looking at aviation in general as a declining industry," Mr. Tzur said. "As a result, we are probably looking at a cut in funding for education and aviation-related projects."
The reality, Mr. Tzur said, is that the industry has a greater demand for skilled labor than is available. To back up the assertion, the Beacon Council — upon hearing about the State of Florida's conclusion — sent out its own survey to 338 aviation companies in South Florida.
Here are results from the 40 companies that responded:
nAverage size of responding company was 40 employees, with facilities larger than 15,000 square feet.
nMore than 35% intend to increase their facility size over the next 12 months, compared with 23% who definitely won't.
nHalf expect to increase their workforce by an average of 16 jobs, 20% expect to reduce their work force by an average of seven jobs, while 30% predicted no change in size.
nEighty percent reported entry salaries of more than $10 per hour with the majority in the $15 to $25 per hour range. Average salaries are $20 to $25.
Because the results confirmed what Mr. Tzur and others had thought — that the industry is in fact doing well — they plan to take their results to the state level to make their case.
"As far as top obstacles to growth," he said, "it's workforce. The ability to hire and maintain qualified workforce is declining. Obviously, what we need to do is not cut programs but increase programs that support aviation such as the Baker School."
Steven Daun, vice president of sales with Aeroservice Aviation Center, said Miami has a great history of aviation and it's important to maintain and grow what it has.
"If you look at what's going on worldwide, there is a huge pilot shortage and a (bigger) mechanic shortage, and it's not going to be resolved anytime soon," Mr. Daun said. "Over the years, Miami was known as the aviation capital of the world — if you needed something in aviation, chances are you went to Miami.
"The sad part is we've lost that edge."
Mr. Gallagan said Baker sees about 600 students every year for its 2˝-year program. He said he'd like to expand but doesn't have the resources.
"We are at a time when we need additional funding to meet the demand and growth," Mr. Gallagan said. "The companies get bothered, and I say "I'm sorry, I don't have any graduates at this time.' If we do not provide the work here, the work will go somewhere because the planes got to fly. We want to keep the industry here local; we want the tax base to stay here; we want the companies to stay here."
It's also a good time for growth in the local aviation industry because the exchange rate makes it favorable for European investment in the US.
On a recent trip to France and Italy a group from the Beacon Council met with seven aviation companies in Toulouse, France, regarding opportunities in Miami, said Frank Nero, Beacon Council president and CEO.
One of those companies is in Miami now and may expand; the others, mainly manufacturing operations, don't have Miami links yet, he said, adding that two are flying to Miami for follow-ups and to see potential sites.
Mr. Nero said also that an official with the air show in Paris told him Miami would be "the perfect place" for a trade air show. He said Homestead Air Reserve Base could possibly host such an event.
The state's aviation industry employs more than 52,000 and operates out of 129 public airports, over 600 private airports and 27 military airfields. In addition, one fifth of the world's flight training occurs in Florida.
In Miami-Dade, more than 12,000 people are employed in the $1.1 billion aviation industry, Mr. Tzur said.
Officials from Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership serving as Florida's primary economic development organization, could not be reached for comment.