Many in Arizona's aviation industry support the concept of the Arizona Aerospace Institute, saying it could encourage collaboration in research among the industry, private labs and academia.
Although the project is still in the exploratory stages and many details remain to be worked out, the proposal appears to align with the strategic plan for the state aerospace industry that was submitted to the governor's office at the end of last year, said Vicki Panhuise, chairwoman of the Arizona Aerospace and Defense Commission. The commission was created by the Legislature to draw up the plan.
"One of the points was to explore the creation of such an institute," she said.
Lynn Kusy, director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in east Mesa, called the proposal "a wonderful idea."
"The East Valley and the state of Arizona have a huge aerospace industrial complex involving manufacturing, repair, commercial air service. To capitalize on that is very natural."
The fact that the institute would be located at the nearby Mesa Proving Grounds being vacated by General Motors also will be a plus for the airport, he said.
He said the institute should focus on research to build on the technical skills and education programs already available in the East Valley.
"Research is the one activity that needs some encouragement, and it's the one activity ... that can generate new jobs and business activity," he said.
Expanding aerospace research in Arizona could encourage some of the trained technicians at the Air Force Research Lab at Gateway to stay after the lab's scheduled move to Dayton, Ohio, in 2010, he said.
"If we structure it right, the community could retain a lot of that talent," Kusy said.
Officials of DMB Associates, the Scottsdale-based company that is redeveloping the proving grounds, said the institute could help make the airport a major hub for the state's aerospace industry.
"This could have an impact like T-Gen (the Translational Genomics Research Institute) had for downtown (Phoenix)," said CEO Drew Brown. "We need to create a vibrant district for jobs, residences, education. We want to convene these kinds of opportunities."
The state's universities could participate with industry in several important research fields, including development of aviation biofuels, "green" aircraft and improved air traffic control, said Bob Johnson, former CEO of Honeywell Aerospace who is chairman of the institute's board of directors.
An example of the type of research the institute could foster is an effort by Boeing Co., a major Mesa employer, to develop a new generation of biofuels with ASU, said William Harris, president of Science Foundation Arizona and a board member.
"This is a new level for the state-Boeing relationship," he said.
In a written statement, Boeing said company officials understand "the near-term benefits and far-reaching value of initiatives" like the proposed institute.
"The company continues to engage with local leaders to determine the scope and focus of the project."