Port SA: Growing San Antonio’s Stake in Aerospace

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Then and Now: Generations of San Antonians have enjoyed careers in aircraft support on the 1,900-acre site of the former Kelly Air Force Base. Photos courtesy of Port San Antonio.

Then and Now: Generations of San Antonians have enjoyed careers in aircraft support on the 1,900-acre site of the former Kelly Air Force Base. Photos courtesy of Port San Antonio.

PART I: HISTORY PAVES THE WAY FORWARD

One of the biggest opportunities to grow our economy and create great jobs well into the future isn’t a far-away aspiration.

The aerospace industry has long been a dynamic, vital part of San Antonio’s economy. Chapters in aerospace history begin here and will continue to be written by our community.

Some of the world’s first aircraft arrived in crates by rail to the outskirts of the city. Here, Army engineers assembled them. And Army pilots – some of whom trained with the Wright brothers – flew them.

On land that launched some of the world’s first aviators a century ago, Port San Antonio has been redeveloping the site of the former Kelly Air Force Base for almost 20 years. As stewards of 1,900 acres southwest of downtown, our work is to strategically repurpose this land in partnership with industry, educators, and the public sector so it remains a vital regional economic engine.

At Kelly, generations of San Antonians have found good jobs as civilian workers who maintained scores of military aircraft. For families, employment at Kelly was synonymous with joining the middle class, saving for retirement, and having the means to provide a good future for one’s kids.

For almost a century, the land has supported humankind’s dreams of flight. It began in 1917 as a center to train some of the world’s first military pilots at the dawn of World War I. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

For almost a century, the land making up Port San Antonio has supported humankind’s dreams of flight. It began in 1917 as a center to train some of the world’s first military pilots at the dawn of World War I. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Kelly was the bridge that connected people with new skills and opportunities in advanced technology.

Its look and name might have changed, but that bridge endures.

Since the base’s closure, both former Kelly workers and new generations have applied their expertise for marquee names in aviation that now occupy former military facilities as well as new hangars and workshops at the Port. These include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, GDC Technics, Chromalloy, and StandardAero.

As did generations of Kelly workers before them, thousands of men and women enjoy good careers in aerospace at the Port today. Of almost 12,000 people who work at the Port, about 3,000 have expertise in aircraft maintenance, repairs, and modifications. Their well-paid occupations include aircraft mechanics, engineers, completions workers, and supporting personnel.

Aerospace’s employment base at the Port is larger than the region’s already sizable automotive sector, and its impact far-reaching.

Keeping What We Have

Military projects have been the backbone of aerospace work at the Port and will continue to be an important part of our economy.

Demand for military aircraft maintenance and support will fluctuate in the coming years, because of planned defense budget cuts and replacement of older aircraft with new platforms that require less maintenance.

Workers at the Port help maintain and upgrade the latest generation of commercial aircraft -- the 787 Dreamliner. Photo Wikimedia Commons photo.

Workers at the Port help maintain and upgrade the latest generation of commercial aircraft -- the 787 Dreamliner. Photo Wikimedia Commons photo.

The key to maintaining and securing future military work is to continue advocating in Washington, as the Port and local leaders have done for years, reminding policy makers that private industry has a strategic role in national defense. This is especially true in an era where military operations demand a nimble, agile force. By design, competition drives private industry to be nimble, too, delivering the best service at the best price for military customers.

When the military entrusts support activities such as aircraft maintenance to the private sector on an as-needed basis, resources can then be better deployed toward fulfilling more critical defense missions.

This is precisely the type of strategic support that the Port’s aerospace customers have extended to the Department of Defense for nearly 20 years: access to a highly experienced workforce with proven capacity and flexibility to adapt as the military’s needs change.

It’s a powerful proposition, and one that bears repeating any time the military evaluates whether to insource or outsource work: Let men and women in uniform do what they do best by allowing civilians in the private sector to do what they do best.

Airlines have long figured this out.

To remain competitive, the trend in recent years has been for airlines to outsource much of their fleet maintenance. This has saved money and allowed them greater focus on their core business: transport passengers in the safest and most timely manner.

A Future of Global Proportions

Speaking of airlines, in the world of commercial aviation, the wind is at our back.

Air transportation, both passenger and cargo, is thriving worldwide. In its 2015 industry outlook, Deloitte Consulting foresees commercial aerospace as enjoying eight percent growth.

“The commercial aerospace sector is expected to set new records for aircraft production in 2015,” said Tom Captain, Deloitte Global Aerospace and Defense Sector Leader. “The accelerated replacement cycle of obsolete aircraft with next generation fuel-efficient aircraft, and growing passenger travel demand, especially in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, are key drivers behind this trend.”

Lockheed Martin's facility at the Port maintains and tests some of the world's largest engines. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin's facility at the Port maintains and tests some of the world's largest engines. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

In the U.S., between 2013 and 2014, commercial aerospace work experienced a nearly 10 percent increase year after year, according to the same analysis.

Aircraft orders bear this out. Boeing alone, a longtime Port customer and the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer, continues to tackle more than 4,000 backorders for wide-bodied aircraft through its various manufacturing sites. Orders for platforms that include the 737, 747, 777, and 787 are valued at more than half a trillion dollars. Of that amount, $150 billion in orders were booked in 2014 alone.

Added demand for commercial products from other aerospace firms and their suppliers further fortifies a key pillar of our domestic economy--translating into thousands of good jobs, for years to come, across the nation.

Global Forecast of Wide-Bodied Aircraft Orders 2015-2033. Source: Deloitte 2015 Global Aerospace & Defense Outlook

Global Forecast of Wide-Bodied Aircraft Orders 2015-2033. Source: Deloitte 2015 Global Aerospace & Defense Outlook

The news is especially good for San Antonio, in light of two critically important facts: You build an airplane only once. But you get to maintain it for decades.

With a century of expertise in aircraft maintenance behind us and well-established heavy hitters already at the Port, we have a great opportunity to grow our share in one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy.

As a result of world demand for air transportation, forecasts predict the creation of an additional 109,000 related technician jobs in North America by 2033.

In our next installment, we’ll highlight how the Port and the community can leverage our strengths to capture a fair share of this tremendous opportunity.

*Featured/top image: Then and Now: Generations of San Antonians have enjoyed careers in aircraft support on the 1,900-acre site of the former Kelly Air Force Base. Photos courtesy of Port San Antonio.

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2 thoughts on “Port SA: Growing San Antonio’s Stake in Aerospace

  1. Thanks for the update.

    Its not glitzy or hip like tech, but aerospace and its associated businesses and logistics is something SA should seek “to own” in the state Texas.

    • I think you are understating dramatically the established aerospace presence in DFW and Houston – and the fact that those cities have actual major airports, while SA’s is really just a glorified feeder and a distant 4th to Austin in traffic. Promising, sure – but we are talking about SA being a secondary maintenance depot with cheap labor. DFW and Houston “have owned” aerospace for decades within the state.

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