Business and political leaders celebrate NM aviation industry

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Aviation business leaders, state politicians and employees from prominent New Mexico-based companies gathered in Albuquerque on Monday to celebrate the state’s growing aviation and aerospace industry.

At the rally, organized by the Washington, D.C.-based General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Gov. Susana Martinez and others spoke about the industry’s broad impact on the New Mexico economy.

Aviation-related activity in the state supports more than 48,000 jobs, generates $1.3 billion in payroll annually, and contributes $3.1 billion to the economy, she said.

“That’s something worth celebrating, and worth building on,” Martinez told the crowd.

Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pete Bunce said New Mexico is the 10th state selected by his organization for an industry rally, something the association launched following the recession in 2008.

The downturn had a huge impact on the aviation industry nationwide, so the association uses the celebration events to highlight its benefits and unite local, state and national leaders to make it stronger.

“We took a beating in the recession,” Bunce told rally participants. “We realized we hadn’t done a good job of telling our story as a high-wage and high tax-producing industry. So we’re telling our story with elected officials at the state, local and federal levels.”

General aviation, which includes all aviation other than military and commercial, contributes more than $150 billion annually to the national economy and supports 1.2 million jobs, according to the association.

In New Mexico, the sector contributes about $760 million annually to the economy. It includes everything from aircraft manufacturers and avionics developers to charter flight firms and repair and service companies.

As in other states, local businesses suffered in the recession. Many laid off workers. Some went bankrupt, the most notable being Eclipse Aviation Corp.

But the industry has rebounded substantially in the last two to three years. Nationally, the association reported that billings for airplane shipments reached $10.4 billion in the first half of 2013. That’s up 26.4 percent from $8.2 billion in the same period last year.

New Mexico companies also report healthy growth, including four firms that helped organize and host the rally in Albuquerque: Cutter Aviation, Aspen Avionics, Bendix King by Honeywell, and Eclipse Aerospace.

Eclipse Aerospace bought Eclipse Aviation’s assets out of bankruptcy and has since completely rebuilt the company, said Ed Lundeen, vice president for operations.

“The first Eclipse 550 very light jet will come off the production line in the fourth quarter of this year,” Lundeen told rally participants, which included a few dozen Eclipse employees. “When we started four years ago, we had only 13 employees. Today we have 273.”

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