From left, Lenore Prather listens as Dr. James Brooks discusses a cell phone image with Earl Walker, general manager of Mississippi operations for American Eurocopter, Tuesday afternoon following the Rotary Club meeting at Columbus Country Club. Brooks recently took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and was surprised to learn the helicopter was made at American Eurocopter in Columbus. Photo by: Carmen K. Sisson/Dispatch Staff
April 11, 2012 10:05:17 AM
When people think of American Eurocopter, they often think of military aircraft, but the company's Columbus facility manufactures helicopters which are used every day for a wide range of purposes, from law enforcement to corporate, commercial and business use.
Dr. James Brooks, a Columbus optometrist, learned that first-hand recently while vacationing in Las Vegas. He and a tour group took a helicopter trip across the Grand Canyon, and when he returned and showed the photographs around town, he discovered he had gone all the way to Vegas just to ride in a helicopter manufactured right here at home.
Brooks, along with other members of the Columbus Rotary Club, had the opportunity to learn more about American Eurocopter Tuesday afternoon during a presentation by Earl Walker, general manager of the company's Mississippi operations.
Walker said the company, which is a division of EADS North America, has come a long way since breaking ground in 2003.
Initially, they started out in a small hangar at the Golden Triangle Regional Aerospace Industrial Park. Now the company's 325,000 square foot facility, situated on 40 acres and employing 335 people, is growing exponentially -- and the Aerospace Park is growing with it.
Last month, American Eurocopter delivered its 200th Lakota helicopter to the U.S. Army. Now the Columbus facility has produced 209 of the 345 Lakotas they will deliver to the Army and Army National Guard by 2016.
The manufacture of the high-tech machines is "quite an accomplishment for this area," Walker said, adding that the company has been successful due to its ability to meet customers' needs by building the package they seek.
Another thing that has made the company successful is the local workforce and community, Walker said. Initially, there were concerns they may not be able to find people with aviation experience, but with the close proximity to Columbus Air Force Base, as well as Huntsville, Ala. -- home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal -- they found a willing workforce that not only had aviation experience but also had airframe and powerplant certification.
East Mississippi Community College has also been pivotal in working with American Eurocopter, helping train the local workforce with necessary skills, he said.
"We were able to come to Mississippi and have a lot of success with the Mississippi workforce and with the support of the community," Walker said. "We've had a lot of success with the people from this area."
Though Eurocopter's North American division is headquartered in Grand Prairie, Texas, Columbus holds the distinction of being the only U.S. site with a production and manufacturing line. The Texas site handles administration, sales, marketing, technical and customer support and maintenance and repair.
The Columbus facility holds another distinction as well -- the Federal Aviation Association has issued it a "Made in the U.S.A." production certificate, allowing every helicopter it produces to bear that logo after meeting the rigid criteria.
As images flicked across a projection screen showing the company's aircraft being used for border patrol, emergency medical airlifts, Homeland Security, offshore work, tourism, military and other uses, many Rotarians expressed surprise at the variety of areas the company serves throughout the world.
"I was surprised at the international reach of this company that's located right here in the Golden Triangle," Rotarian and Cadence Bank Senior Vice President Larry Cantrell said Tuesday afternoon. "I'm so impressed with the quality of what they do for the Coast Guard, business and the military. Their quality is quite obviously recognized by all these people."
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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