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A Look at the Aviation Industry in Oklahoma

The aviation industry in Oklahoma is flying high. Since the early 20th century, Oklahoma has played a pivotal role in America’s aviation history. Pioneers in the field — visionaries such as Clyde Cessna, Wiley Post, and Tom and Paul Braniff — built, tested and flew airplanes and founded major airline carriers in the Sooner State.
Aviation is big business in Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s aviation industry really began to grow during World War II when Douglas Aircraft Company built two large industrial facilities near Tulsa and Oklahoma City (today’s Tinker Air Force Base, the largest military aircraft repair facility in the world and Oklahoma’s largest single-site employer with 26,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4 billion). Since that time, Oklahoma has become one of the world’s major hubs in the aerospace industry, home to more than 300 public- and private-sector aviation and aerospace companies in the Greater Oklahoma City region alone, according to Greater Oklahoma City Economic Development.

Information at reveals that, “Oklahoma is one of the seven centers in the world for the maintenance, repair and overhaul . . . of aircraft.” The American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Center in Tulsa is the world’s largest commercial aircraft repair facility, employing 6,000 people. The FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, which employs 7,000 people, is the central support and training facility in the country for the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Overall, the aerospace and aviation industry in Oklahoma generates a $12.5 billion economic output annually, or 10 percent of the state’s total output.

Sooner Salaries in Aviation

Today, the aviation industry in Oklahoma continues unparalleled growth, adding to its legacy. Oklahoma is one of the top 10 states in traditional aerospace occupation employment, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. More than 120,000 people are employed in the aerospace and defense industry, which represents about one out of every 11 Oklahomans. With an annual payroll of $5 billion, Oklahoma offers numerous and varied well-paying jobs in aviation and logistics. The average salary for a worker in the state’s aerospace industry is more than $63,000, according to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. The (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition (BLS) reports that the annual median pay in May 2015 for aerospace engineers was $107,830, $66,180 for aerospace engineering and operations technicians, $122,950 for air traffic controllers, $102,520 for airline and commercial pilots, and $58,390 for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians. Airport chief executives, airport operations managers and flight engineers can expect to earn more than $100,000 a year. Aviation and aerospace logistics managers can find employment with many Oklahoma businesses and organizations, including aircraft manufacturing firms, aerospace equipment manufacturing firms, airport authorities, material handling, equipment manufacturers and dealers, aerospace and aviation software and computer service firms, air freight distributors, universities and flight schools, and the military and government agencies.

Why Do Business in Oklahoma?

In the past 10 years, the state of Oklahoma has created various programs and incentives designed to enhance the competitiveness and help boost the revenue of aviation and aerospace companies doing business in the Sooner State. Some of those incentives and programs include Aviation Sales Tax Exemption, Aerospace Industry Engineer Workforce Tax Credits, Quality Jobs, Investment Tax Credit, the ad valorem tax exemption, the manufacturer’s exemption for sales and use tax, and the Training for Industry Program.

Bruce Tifft, plant manager of ASCO Aerospace USA in Stillwater, told Oklahoma Now there were several reasons his growing company selected the Sooner State to do business. According to Oklahoma Now, “ASCO is a Belgian-based company that machines and finishes airplane wing components as well as structural frame parts made of steel and aluminum” for Boeing 737s, 777s and 787s. Tifft said an important part of settling in Oklahoma was the variety of incentive programs created by the state. “The state has a good aerospace base,” he said. “It goes back almost to the beginning of flight in both the commercial and military sectors and also includes space exploration. That foundation means that many state and local officials have experience with the aerospace industry and our needs and it means that there is an established supply base here as well.”

Texas and Oklahoma Working Together in Aviation

Both Oklahoma and Tulsa, in particular, are helping Fort Worth-based Graco Supply & Integrated Services remain competitive on a national scale, said the company’s Chief Executive Officer and President Steve Novakovich. Graco Supply provides adhesives, sealants, coatings, lubricants, tapes, MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and safety equipment products to the aircraft and industrial markets. The company has a footprint across the United States, with locations in Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington and New Jersey. Graco opened a small one-person warehouse operation in Tulsa around 2010 without any economic incentives from the state or local government. The company recently added an additional employee to support its growth in the area. “We find the aerospace market in Tulsa to be very active and growing, which is why we continue to invest in our operations there,” said Novakovich. “Graco’s local presence and strong customer relationships in Tulsa have enabled us to provide critical support for aerospace chemical customers.”

Go Higher With an MBA in Aerospace Logistics

The aviation industry in Oklahoma means business as well as top flight careers for anyone interested in working in the booming field. Graduate students may consider pursuing an MBA in Aerospace Logistics. Coursework will focus on logistical strategies in aerospace administration, including an emphasis on the aspects of aerospace marketing and program management. Students earning an MBA in Aerospace Logistics will be well prepared to keep Oklahoma’s aviation industry soaring and at the leading edge of technology and innovation.


Novakovich, Steve. (2016, May 25). Telephone interview.

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