What’s Happening in Wichita

Almost 10 years since Beechcraft and Cessna joined under the Textron Aviation umbrella, the two sides of town are beginning to blend.

The Wichita metro area straddles the Arkansas River, dividing the city into clear East and West sides. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

The West Side. The East Side. And Kellogg Avenue connects the two.

That’s the Wichita I knew when I left Kansas in 2012 to return to Colorado, leaving the Cessna Aircraft Company two years prior to the day when the news broke that Textron had purchased the assets of Beechcraft from the throes of its bankruptcy. In early 2014, we speculated that Textron had purchased Beech for the King Air line—and little else—and the outcome of the facilities surrounding the storied Beech Factory Field (KBEC) would be settled in a likely to be challenging merger.

With five campuses to its name Textron Aviation has been busy working to optimize the infrastructure under its purview. While the main campus at Eisenhower Regional Airport (KICT) houses the corporate offices, Cessna Citation production lines, and the largest Textron Aviation Service Center in the world, the campus at Beech Field stays focused on the King Air, as well as Beech Bonanza and Baron production in Plant IV. Piston singles, including the Cessna 172, 182, and T206, are built in Independence, Kansas, about an hour flight by Skyhawk to the southeast. Cessna Caravan production moved to Indy too.

But there’s a good deal of space that could be optimized after certain efficiencies have been gained throughout the enterprise—which now employs roughly 13,000 people, as the Textron Aviation communications team confirmed to me during my visit this week to Wichita. I flew in with one of the company’s Citation sales team in a Cessna TTx—the subject of an upcoming story, to be sure—for TextAv’s media day ahead of the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Conference and Expo in Las Vegas next month.

They had a lot to share—most of which I can’t tell you yet or they would send the ghosts of Dwane Wallace and Olive Ann Beech to haunt me. But one story I can relate this week is what the growing company plans to put in motion to address its need to continue hiring and training the workforce it needs to cover orders like the 1,500 Citations that NetJets announced on Wednesday.

With a trip in a black SUV across town, from West to East, we stepped out onto a construction site as the highlight of our day—besides the three square meals provided. Donning hard hats and safety glasses, we entered the building that will house the Textron Aviation Hiring and Learning Center, and proceeded across the bare concrete to an open atrium. There, members of the human resources team outlined how various spaces would be used during the interview process, as well as for hands-on training using real aircraft. 

The Textron Aviation Hiring and Learning Center will focus on the onboarding and inspiring of future members of the workforce. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

For example, when new technicians are brought in to work on the production line, they go through paid on-the-job training prior to joining the line. They practice on components now—but they will get to place, say, a completed aileron on a wing assembly. The possibilities in the large space will multiply and accelerate the onboarding process.

The refurbished building will also house a K-12 entry vestibule, where local school children can come in to learn about STEM topics through the lens of Cessna and Beechcraft and Bell aircraft—making the application of knowledge far more immediate. The kids will also be able to learn about the wide variety of aviation jobs that an OEM like TextAv offers for their future.

It’s clearly one of many big investments, but with a big order book to fulfill, a very necessary one.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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