The American aerospace industry, whether it’s the commercial, regional, or the general aviation field, has long been an interest to government officials. Aviation is almost always heavily influenced by federal, state, and local governments, and this is a trend that’s been around since the first mail delivery aircraft took flight in America.
Sweeping changes in the industry that have occurred in the past ten years include Congressional interest in aerospace competition, export control issues, increased competition from low-cost aerospace manufacturers, environmental concerns, and an aging aviation workforce.
For US aerospace professionals, these changes bring both challenges and opportunities, especially in the complex architecture of how the federal and state government influences the local aerospace market.
The Federal Influence: Legislation and Taxes
Aerospace competition in the Houston area is big. Texas boasts one of the largest populations of engineers in the country, and over 150,000 aviation/aerospace professionals work in the Houston area alone. Houston is most impacted by the federal government’s interest in increasing aerospace competition and the impending federal budget cuts that slash defense spending on aviation, which directly impact the availability of jobs and money spent on attracting future aviation professionals from high school and college programs.
Senator Maria Cantwell opened congressional hearings in July 2012, where multiple aviation firms testified about the increasing competition from non-American manufacturers. These competitors include manufacturers in Brazil, China, and even Russia. Industry professionals pointed out that the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) further predicted that the gross aviation domestic product would suffer a loss of $215 billion dollars and possibly over 2 million jobs would be slashed.
The federal impact on Houston’s aerospace industry is two-fold. Decreased job availability, primarily in the defense industry, may force Houston aerospace professionals to be absorbed by non-aerospace career fields. Second, Congressional funding and corporate tax cut expirations directly impact Houston’s famous “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” initiative, which draws thousands of high school and college students to the aviation field.
State Influence: Keeping Economy Alive
At a state level, Texas ranks in the top three for aerospace manufacturing and Houston has 2.7 times the national average concentration of aerospace professionals. Texas’ state government has been positively influencing Texas’ aviation industry, primarily with measures Governor Rick Perry has enacted to boost growth in the struggling segment. In fact, Texas was the only state to add aerospace jobs in the past year, much owed to the state government’s efforts to ensure aerospace longevity despite federal cuts.
The Texas state government has helped Houston’s aerospace/aviation industry with two key initiatives: the Office of Aerospace, Aviation & Defense, within the Economic Development & Tourism (EDT) Division of the Office of the Governor; and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. The Office of Aerospace, Aviation & Defense actively communicates with lawmakers and government decision makers to coordinate business development initiatives. The Texas Emerging Technology Fund reaches out to Texas universities and has invested almost $9 million in research projects to further aerospace technology.
Local Government: Engaging Professionals & Keeping Talent Local
Local Houston officials are also actively influencing the aviation industry. Annise Parker, the executive officer of Houston, and local budgetary officials focus aviation efforts on Houston’s “Aviation Fund”, which seeks to establish Houston as the standard of air transport in the country. The fund also seeks to satisfy employment goals and operational revenues that reinforce Houston’s devotion to keeping Texas flying. For 2012, over $431 million dollars will go to Houston’s aviation fund.
Levels of Influence Across the Board
How does Houston’s local aviation system relate to other states’ aviation industry? At the federal level, Congress will continually influence aviation and air transport in terms of budgetary constraints. This includes corporate tax rules that often directly influence how much money aviation corporations can spend on research, development, and employment. Finally, Congressional legislation affecting export control and competition also broadly impact large corporations involved with manufacturing.
As an aviation professional, the best way to influence Congressional and federal decisions surrounding aviation is to become involved with AIA and stay current on how your Congressman or woman views aviation- regardless of where you live and vote.
At the state level, aviation professionals see the most direct impact on their industry, especially when it comes to science and technology funding. State governments can actively engage the aviation industry by devoting resources to interacting with federal decision makers to lobby and educate them on aviation issues. State governments can also devote resources to universities and research funds to improve the knowledge base of aviation professionals and future aerospace workers.
Local governments affect aviation at a very localized level, usually in a city of township. Local governments typically affect aviation by establishing industry standards for local airports and manufacturing bases. They can also set standards for employment practices and goals, which often help local companies to attract new workers and provide incentives for aviation professionals.
Keeping Aerospace/Aviation Alive
Despite federal cuts and beneficial tax program ends, state and local governments often have the most impact on smaller scale aviation industries. While aviation is a global player, the quality of life for engineers, pilots, and manufacturers often boils down to state and local influences which seek to further the aviation industry right at home.
The opportunities for would-be aerospace professionals and blossoming aviation engineers are limitless. As Michaela Platzer of the Congressional Research Service organization points out, the industry is having a hard time replacing the retired knowledge base in aviation, simply because of competition from non-aviation fields for qualified engineers. While this trend is disturbing to more seasoned professionals, to new highly qualified aviation graduates, this means opportunities abound for those who want a career of flight.
In the Houston area, the typical engineer is likely in their 40s and makes over $60,000 a year- well above the national average. Houston’s robust aviation industry also draws professionals because of job security- if someone gets laid off, all they have to do is apply “down the street”, and they will likely find another job. Texas’ devotion to keeping aviation alive in the state where it was born is a model for other states to enhance and develop their aviation industry.