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Aviation: Flying higher
January 24, 2011
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  • By William Pack

    January 17, 2011

    Despite persistent financial challenges for airplane manufacturers and other nagging economic headwinds, San Antonio’s aviation prospects are looking up in2011.

    The city’s aviation sector, a $3.8 billion industry by theGreater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce‘s most recent economic analysis in 2007, has been growing and expanding services.

    Airport traffic began to grow again last year and may accelerate in 2011, while aircraft maintenance and refurbishment firms eye expansion opportunities created by enlarged facilities and increasingcapabilities.

    The Port San Antonio facility of Boeing, one of the sector’s largest employers with 1,700 workers, could bring on hundreds more technicians once the first 787 Dreamliner arrives for mechanical and operating systemadjustments.

    Officials had hoped the cutting-edge commercial jet would get to San Antonio in 2010, but delays have plagued the project, and Boeing still is not saying when the Dreamliner will set down in SanAntonio.

    “We should know something within the next month,” saidWendy Locklear, a Boeingspokeswoman.

    San Antonio International Airport has added daily, nonstop flights to places like New York and Baltimore, and late last year replaced an aging terminal with a $108 millionupgrade.

    Airport spokesmanRich Johnsonsaid the passenger count, after declining by about 6 percent in 2009, rose last year. Through November, it was up by almost 2.6 percent from the same period in 2009, while the amount of domestic and international cargo grew by more than 10 percent from 2009 to almost 190 million pounds, the airportreported.

    Johnson believes those measures could grow more this year thanlast.

    ST Aerospace San Antonio, formerlySan Antonio Aerospace, completed a $16 million hangar at the airport addition in December, enabling it to handle two additional wide-bodyaircraft.

    Gore Design Completions, meanwhile, expanded its hangar and shop space at Port San Antonio by about 50 percent last year as it pursues new custom-interiorcontracts.

    Rob Tomenendal, Gore’s director of business development, said employment this year could match the record levels the company achieved in 2010 if new contracts come in as expected.

    Boeing’s Dreamliner could be among the contracts Gore bids on. Another leading aerospace company,Kelly Aviation Centerat Port San Antonio, is diversifying its service base with work on two commercial engines over the next two years, saidChuck Artymovich, the center’spresident.

    The work is counted on to provide more long-term stability for the facility, which currently focuses on military aircraft upgrades. Artymovich said the work may not produce more jobs this year or next, but he foresees “good growth opportunities after that.” Kelly has about 510employees.

    The recession hurt business jet and propeller-driven plane manufacturers, including Emivest Aerospace Corp. inSan Antonio and Mooney Aviation Co. of Kerrville.

    Emivest, which still has an office at the airport, filed for bankruptcy protection in October and is seeking new ownership to revive its business jet, the SJ30. Court filings show Emivest made $109,261 in sales and service income last year after generating more than $12 million in2009.

    Mooney is looking for new investors to rebuild the company that makes three models of propeller-drive aircraft. Once employing about 500 people, Mooney now employs fewer than 53, saidSusan Harrison, the company’s marketingdirector.

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