Environmental Team Vo-Tech, Productivity Key Elements to United

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By Bill May Three key elements in Oklahoma City's bid to lure a major airline maintenance center are not a part of the financial incentives package, according to economic development officials.

The elements, which are exclusive to Oklahoma, are the "outstanding environmental team" of federal, state and local regulators plus the state's vocational-technical education system. The third element is productivity of the local workforce.

"A lot of this deal, one major reason why companies from all over are looking here, is the productivity of the labor force," said William P. Bowden, who heads aerospace marketing efforts of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "That and the environmental management aspects of this area make us particularly attractive.

"We have an outstanding environmental team which has a can-do attitude. They insist on companies doing the right thing, but they work with industry to help them achieve what is right and they work to process permit requests as quickly as possible."

Another major element of the local bid is the Aviation Career Center operated by MetroTech, Oklahoma City's vo-tech district, at Will Rogers World Airport.

Even though other states offer employee training assistance through the vo-tech systems, Oklahoma's system is more receptive to industry, Bowden said.

The Aviation Career Center is a vo-tech school which teaches basic aviation maintenance technology leading to federal certification of airframe and powerplant mechanics. The school also offers advanced courses on non-destructive testing, avionics and composite repair and industry-specific training to help new and expanding aviation companies.

But the key element of that school, Bowden said, is the proposal to build a $10 million addition to offer continuing education on the avionics systems and inspecting and maintaining transport category aircraft.

Although the instruction in this so-called Phase III proposal would deal only with heavy or transport category aircraft, the emphasis would be on older airplanes. The aging commercial airfleet is becoming a major issue to the airline industry, forcing air carriers to make more frequent and more detailed inspections of airplanes more than 20 years old.

"This school could become very important for the airlines," said Bowden. "I know from experience the problems with the aging airframes. We used to spend a lot of money just training people to make the proper inspections on those older airplanes, then be able to interpret the results.

"That was a major investment for us, just in training people how to do the work, plus buying the latest technology test equipment. …