ARLINGTON — When U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen visited the Arlington Airport last fall, he met with a few of the non-aviation manufacturers in its business park areas, but on Thursday, April 4, aviation was at the forefront of his focus.
Larsen spoke with local pilots, toured through the Glasair Aviation facilities, and was met by Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert and Arlington Airport Manager Rob Putnam, as he provided insights on how the sequestration process has impacted aviation as a whole.
As a result of the across-the-board spending cuts that Congress had agreed to as part of their debt deal, five contract towers in the state are no longer funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. Larsen is the ranking Democratic member of the aviation subcommittee headed up by New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whom Larsen had worked well with when both men had occupied the same positions on the Coast Guard subcommittee.
“That being said, the difference between that subcommittee and this one is like moving from the kids’ table to the adults’ table,” said Larsen, who cited the inflexibility of the sequester itself, with its insistence on examining each line item, as an obstacle to restoring that contract tower funding. “The way that law is written, even if there were a line item that was literally ‘waste, fraud and abuse,’ and it accounted for all the costs that need to be cut, we would only be able to trim 5 to 8 percent of it.”
Tolbert acknowledged that the sequestration has even had an impact on the Arlington Fly-In, as she, Larsen and Putnam took a drive-by tour of a few of the businesses lining the runway of the Arlington Airport.
“This is the original ramp that the Navy built in the 1930s,” Putnam said. “They did a good job.”
Tolbert was able to share more positive news with Larsen when she informed him of the partnership between the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee and the Arlington School District’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs.
“AJAC helped reconfigure the workshops at Arlington High School and will be giving their curriculum to the school district, so that juniors and seniors can train through them for college credits,” Tolbert said. “Arlington has the second-highest jobs-to-households ratio in the county, just short of Everett’s, but 42 percent of our high school students don’t go on to higher education.”
Scott Taylor, vice president of operations for Glasair Aviation, explained to Larsen what led to his company’s purchase by Jilin Hanxing Group, a China-based conglomerate, last summer.
“Ten years ago, I doubt I would have had anything to do with a company from China,” Taylor said. “The problem is that no American investors were stepping up. We went through a year-and-a-half-long discovery process on both sides before the purchase, so there were no surprises on either side.”
According to Taylor, China offers Glasair a potential pool of aspiring pilots whose numbers would dwarf those of the pilots who are currently active in America, while Glasair offers China much-needed experience in the aviation field.
“In many cases, the Chinese kind of want stuff just to show they have it,” Taylor said. “They want to show they’re Westernized. Their drive and education is phenomenal, but their experience is just not there. Their factory floors can be a mess, with little to no efficiency or organization. I used to design factories for Boeing. They want that knowledge.”
Taylor clarified that, far from being a case of a company outsourcing its jobs to a foreign country, Glasair will be producing planes by Chinese manufacturers, for Chinese consumers, since China’s tariffs are so prohibitively expensive that it costs more to ship an American-made planes to them than it does simply to build the same planes over there. Taylor likewise doesn’t anticipate that Glasair’s Chinese-made planes will be imported to America, especially since Glasair’s “two weeks to build” program is still up and running in Arlington.
“You buy your kit plane from us, and we’ll give you two weeks to built it here,” Taylor said. “You get all the benefits of an amateur build, including your own customization.”
Although Tolbert and Larsen were both heartened to hear that Glasair still produces an average of 45 planes a year, Taylor admitted that this was still down from its 2008 numbers, as is the company’s staffing, which was cut nearly in half to its current total of 40 employees.