June 21, 2008

High-Flying Careers

By Lee Logan, Tulsa World, Okla.

Jun. 21--The youngest pilot to circle the globe plus two top Mitsubishi Corp. executives were in Tulsa on Friday to speak to kids about aviation careers and to tour an airplane repair facility.

Spurred by an aging workforce, Barrington Irving, the first African-American and the youngest pilot to fly around the world, spoke to a group of about 50 students graduating from a Tulsa Air and Space Museum camp.

"I'm giving them the opportunity to explore the aviation industry," Irving said. "A lot of young people aren't exposed to this."

Irving said most of his presentation was simply telling the youngsters about the variety of jobs in the industry. Many kids think only about being a pilot, but the list also includes engineers, air traffic controllers and management positions, he said.

"There's tons of careers," he said. "The workforce is getting old, and they need young people."

Irving grew up in a rough area of Miami, Fla. After flying for five years and circling the globe at age 23, he started Experience Aviation in 2006, an organization that encourages kids to get involved with airplanes.

He now travels the country speaking

to thousands of students.

Irving said he tells most young people that getting started with aviation is as simple as going to the local airport and talking with the people who work there.

Then they can get a pilot's license or learn what courses to take in vocational school.

"You can get your pilot's license before you can get your driver's license," he said. "How many kids know that?"

Irving was brought to Tulsa by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, which owns a local repair station for the MU-2 turboprop plane.

The repair center, Intercontinental Jet Service Corp., is the largest of six similar facilities that work on that plane.

Although it's no longer in production, the plane still is used for business and cargo travel and in the Grace on Wings program, which transports people around the Midwest for medical care.

The CEO and the general manager of Mitsubishi's heavy industry arm were in town Friday to unveil a handful of modifications to the plane.

Dennis Braner, president of the repair center, said it was exciting to have the aviation heavyweights in Tulsa.

Braner noted that Mitsubishi is committed to expanding its U.S. operations. Although there are no specific plans for Tulsa, he said, he mentioned that his facility owns six acres of undeveloped land.

"Are the ingredients (for expansion) here? Yes," he said. "Will the economy and the demand materialize? Who knows."

The 45,000-square-foot repair shop employs 36 people who work on several hundred planes each year. It's similar to an automobile repair shop, Braner said, "except people will come here from all over the world."

Braner said the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and recent high fuel costs have weakened the airline industry. But he predicted that aviation will rebound.

"It's too critical to our national infrastructure," he said. "I don't think I would be here if I wasn't optimistic."

Lee Logan 732-8113 [email protected]


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