Changes at Aeronautics Commission May Speed Recovery

Article excerpt

As the nation's aviation industry is poised on the threshold of recovery, changes are being made to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission which may speed up that recovery, at least in this state.

National aviation leaders have said that education probably is the key to a recovering industry, something which will be uppermost in the actions of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, according to one newly appointed member.

"I'm the new kid on the block, so I'm going to spend my first few months learning what we're doing, but aviation education along with safety probably are the two most important aspects that we'll consider," said Mike Soper, a Muskogee ophthalmologist who was appointed in January to replace Cookson publisher Joe Cunningham. "I know that one of the things that we'll be doing is promoting aviation education through the college level, allowing students to learn what opportunities are available in aviation. After all, there's a lot more to aviation than just being a pilot."

When Soper was named to the commission, Bill Khourie of Elk City was named the at-large commissioner, replacing Paul B. Odom Jr. of Oklahoma City. The commission has representatives from six districts with one at-large member.

Although he didn't mention it by name, Soper said he'd work to improve aviation maintenance technology education in the state, such as Metro Tech's Phase III program designed to teach maintenance technology on air carrier category airplanes. Although there are four state-operated vocational-technical schools and at least one privately owned school in Oklahoma which offer instruction leading to a powerplant and airframe technician license, there are no schools in the nation teaching how to maintain airliners.

This training also will spill over into the business aircraft segment, which is one of the most important to the industry, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers' Association.

While delivery of general aviation aircraft _ any plane not used for commercial air travel or the military _ dipped to 899 units in 1992, down 11.9 percent from 1,021 in 1991, manufacturing association officials are optimistic about the future.

An improving economy, higher profits for United States corporations, healthy export markets, high customer interest and an aging general aviation fleet are expected to combine to improve the industry, according to association President Edward W. Stimpson and Chairman Robert H. Rau.

Education, not only of the formal type but educating new members of Congress and the Clinton administration are on the top of a revitalization plan, said Rau, who also is president of Parker Bertea Aerospace Group.

Four elements of the plan are enactment of an investment tax credit, elimination of the luxury tax on airplanes, product liability reform and modernization and expansion of the aviation infrastructure.

It is the fourth element where the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission fits into the picture.

Improving the state's aviation infrastructure through education and safety will be key to bringing new jobs here, Soper said.

"Oklahoma needs more high paying, quality blue-collar jobs, and I feel that aviation is an industry which can supply this," he said. "For the first couple of months, I'll be on the learning curve to determine just how we operate and what we do, so for now I can't say what our agenda will be. But within a few months, I expect to be working to improve education and safety in this state."

As a recreation flyer, Soper is an instrument-qualified multiengine pilot. He said he has seen a lot of accidents which could have been prevented with "some education and a lot more common sense. …