Ray LaHood told a cheering crowd in Wichita on Monday that he had never been so warmly received during his tenure as transportation secretary. LaHood was a keynote speaker during a rally held at Cessna’s facilities, but attended by an estimated 2,000 workers from Bombardier Learjet, Hawker Beechcraft, Cessna and general aviation companies across the region. And those workers responded enthusiastically as the secretary stood up and vowed to stand by and fight with the industry.
Later in his blog, LaHood reiterated those sentiments. “I’ve traveled all across the U.S., and I have rarely been so warmly welcomed,” he wrote.
LaHood’s visit was symbolic for those workers, who have watched thousands of their colleagues receive layoff notices and watched a substantial portion of their work get channeled to Mexico or shutdown altogether. Cessna chief Jack Pelton stressed the importance that the administration offer support for the community. “This visit and this rally means a great deal to this community,” he said. “If the government gets out of our way and supports us, there’s no telling how big we can get.”
The visit underscored the turnaround in attitude toward general aviation over the past couple of years. As the economy began to unravel in late 2008, the Administration and lawmakers began to criticize the use of corporate aircraft. This came as general aviation was in the early goings of one of the largest downturns the industry had ever faced.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer in early 2009 called on President Obama to visit his city to understand the importance of the industry and why such criticism had proven devastating.
Obama has not yet made it to Wichita, but LaHood – hearing the invitation reiterated on Monday – promised to do everything he can to get the president there to offer support for the industry
“We get it,” he told the workers. “The general aviation industry supports 1.2 million jobs across America.” He credited general aviation for being a big driver of innovation, along with contributing more than $150 billion to the nation’s economy.
“And nowhere is that more evident than in Wichita, ‘air capital of the world,’" he said in his blog after the rally. “General aviation has put Wichita--and Kansas--back on track for economic recovery.”