Reporting on Aviation in the Air Capital: Wichita Eagle Writer Reflects on Covering Wichita’s Dynamic Industry.”

Wichita Air CapitalBy Molly McMillin

There’s absolutely no better place on earth to report and write about aviation than in Wichita, the Air Capital of the World. Wichita’s aviation pioneers, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, Bill Lear, Lloyd Stearman and others, spawned an industry key to Wichita’s economic heartbeat.

Twenty percent of all jobs in Wichita — one-third of all payroll dollars — are in manufacturing. I’m honored and thrilled to be covering the aviation and aerospace industry.

Companies such as Cessna Aircraft, Hawker Beechcraft, Boeing Wichita, Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier Aerospace, Airbus Engineering North America and the hundreds of area suppliers and subcontractors keep the world supplied with private, corporate, commercial and military aircraft.

Molly McMillinI joined the Wichita Eagle in 1995 and covered banking, real estate, retail and economic development before becoming its aviation reporter in 1999, the first female to cover the industry at the paper.

In the past eight years, I’ve witnessed and covered a multitude of changes and developments in a fascinating field filled with talented people. While it’s brought properity and growth, the industry is not without risks and challenges. There’s no doubt we pay the price when aviation suffers. That was brought home so deeply during the last downturn, made much worse by the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact, of all U.S. cities, Wichita was economically hit the hardest by the attacks, which stole our jobs but not our souls, our optimism, or our ability to rebound.

Now, times are good. The industry is booming with record orders and deliveries. New products are in the works. It’s history in the making. As one executive of a local aircraft told me recently, “These are the good old days.”

Yet there are challenges. With the upturn, the industry is building at capacity. I’ve reported how the industry is pressed to find enough skilled employees to fill the demand. There are shortages of some key components, like fasteners, to build aircraft. Wichita’s planemakers must also compete against new, emerging competitors.

A downturn will come eventually, experts say, but barring another catastrophic event, it won’t be as long or as deep as the last one, they predict.

Two major stories impacting Wichita in the past three years include the sale of Boeing’s commercial aircraft division in Wichita and Raytheon Aircraft. Between the time Boeing was weighing its options whether to sale and the announcement that Onex Corp. was the successful bidder, I wrote about 100 sale-related stories.

I’ve covered labor contracts and strikes, hirings and firings, new products and research and trends in the industry. I’ve also covered tragedy, such as the crash that took the lives of three Bombardier test pilots. I’ve traveled to Russia and Italy as part of an award-winning series on Boeing’s push for globalization. And I just returned from Brazil as part of a new project I’m currently working on. Please feel free to pass along any news tips or story suggestions. I can be reached at 269-6708 or [email protected].

Molly McMillin in a Wichita native and a graduate of Wichita State University. Before joining the Wichita Eagle, she was managing editor of a Topeka-based start-up publication, the Kansas Business Report and worked as a reporter at the Wichita Business Journal and for WSU’s campus newspaper, the Sunflower.