Not many people know about Farnborough, England, a town of about 58,000 a 30-minute train ride from London. But to those in the aerospace and defense industry, it’s an important city that hosts one of the largest global airshows every other year.
The Farnborough International Airshow was held this year after a COVID-19 hiatus. The show, named Pioneer the Future, boasted 1,500 exhibits from 48 countries, 80,000 visitors from 96 countries and $192 billion in deals.
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It also provided a collaborative platform for an Arkansas aerospace delegation that included Gov. Asa Hutchinson, exhibitors and key industry representatives, who were all able to explore new business opportunities and trends.
So why does this matter? You may be surprised to learn that Arkansas’ top export is aircraft and aircraft-related services. According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas employed around 8,276 people in aerospace and defense manufacturing as of 2021. And state aerospace and defense exports made up 20% of Arkansas’ total exports, with just over $1 billion in goods exported and just over 1% of the nation’s in 2020.
Arkansas is home to a unique blend of established aerospace and defense companies and niche market providers. Camden boasts nine defense companies, with Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne serving as the area’s largest employers. Little Rock houses Dassault Falcon Jet’s largest completion facility in the world. And Game Composites in Bentonville is the only U.S. FAA-certified two-seat aircraft maker that produces a plane capable of unlimited aerobatics.
One only needs to look at the sector’s presence in Arkansas to appreciate its reach, importance and sustained success. Highland Industrial Park in East Camden is one of the nation’s fastest-growing defense corridors. Lockheed Martin has increased its manufacturing of F-16 and F-35 jets. Singapore and Germany have each signed an agreement with Fort Smith to use its airstrip to train pilots to fly F-35 jets, making Fort Smith the site of an international flight school. These developments are illustrative of the state’s growth and leadership in aerospace and defense.
Farnborough’s Pioneer the Future theme set the stage for the future of flight and advanced mobility — an area in which Arkansas is uniquely positioned to lead. A recent study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranked Arkansas as the second-leading state in the U.S. for commercial drone readiness. Given Arkansas businesses, it is no coincidence that we have hit significant milestones both on the ground and in the skies. Zipline and DroneUp are already making deliveries from Walmart stores to the front door of homes in northwest Arkansas, and Gatik’s driverless trucks make runs between fulfillment centers in Bentonville. Accordingly, while Arkansas’ role in traditional aerospace and defense technology, manufacturing and services is solid, equally promising for the future of Arkansas’ aerospace and defense sector are unmanned aerial mobility, next-generation vehicles and artificial intelligence for smart mobility.
Innovative technology presents exciting steps in a much larger revolution in our aerospace and defense industry, and Arkansas is working to create a road map for the state to become the epicenter of this movement. Whether it is growing our skilled labor force, preparing for increased demands for engineers and certified drone pilots, evaluating regulatory hurdles, or navigating the integration of innovative technologies with existing infrastructure, the governor’s Future of Mobility Council is committed to addressing this head-on. Additionally, the University of Arkansas recently received an important planning grant to develop a road map for smart mobility that will support the university’s vision of becoming the nation’s centerpiece for smart mobility research.
Arkansas has always supported and promoted its fundamental aerospace and defense sector. Building on that durable foundation, the state is fortunate to have individuals, businesses, its flagship university and the community committed to supporting efforts to research and advance innovative and disruptive technologies, increase social awareness and motivate industry engagement.
Special thanks to the Arkansas Aerospace & Defense Alliance, the AEDC, Galley Support Innovations and the Runway Group.