Is Wichita Obama's Post-Katrina New Orleans?
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, President Bush took a lot of heat for his tepid response—both personally and nationally—to the disaster. His airborne photo-op observation of the site of the catastrophe struck many Americans as being an insensitive and wholly insufficient response to the disaster. Only many days later and after the criticism did he hit the ground in New Orleans (though once on the ground, his “Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job” remark proved another lowlight of the Katrina response).
I know you can’t directly compare what is happening in the aviation industry to Hurricane Katrina’s ravaging of the United States Gulf Coast, a natural disaster as a result of which around 1,500 people died, and one that threw hundreds of thousands of lives into chaos. Many of those lives are still in disarray.
But over the past year the aviation industry in the United States has suffered a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions itself. As you know, the calamity is largely due to the world economic crisis that struck last year that crippled the commercial and private credit markets. The result of the collapse was the dumping of hundreds of late model business aircraft on an already saturated used market and the wholesale canceling of hundreds more bizjet orders, with order holders abandoning even large deposits to dump their spots.
But the industry suffered a double whammy when a number of politicians, including President Obama, piled on a staggering industry, portraying business aviation as an expensive and irresponsible perk.
The result of these twin attacks, one economic and one political, soon impacted the lives of tens of thousands of aircraft workers who build and support the airplanes that are at the heart of what we do. There are approximately 1.2 million of these skilled and valuable workers.
In Wichita alone, aerospace companies laid off 27,000 workers. And that’s not just a big number. It’s a big number of people. People with incomes, health benefits, with children in schools and with homes to maintain. And in Savannah and Little Rock and Phoenix and Duluth, the effect was the same. Lost jobs, lives thrown into disarray and no relief in sight.
The effects of such job losses on the economy are easy to compute—they total into the billions--but the personal costs, in terms of family life, opportunities for the children of those who lose their jobs and the loss of hope and optimism are not well known but are great.
True, there was no actual Hurricane that blew through Wichita, but the calamity there is very real and can be measured in the economic and emotional casualties on the ground there, and everywhere in the United States where aviation businesses let people go for lack of business.
And it’s time for President Obama to get on the ground in Wichita, to get his hands dirty and meet those people face to face who have lost their jobs and are in trouble today and who face an uncertain future.
It will take a lot of courage for President Obama to make that trip, because unlike his predecessor with Katrina, President Obama bears some personal responsibility for this catastrophe.
October 20, 2009 | Permalink