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East Tennessee is an aviation 'hub'

Three large companies have significant footprints in East Tennessee.

ALCOA, Tenn. — One of the largest general aviation companies in the world runs its customer-facing operations out of McGhee Tyson Airport.

Cirrus Aircraft makes its airplanes in Duluth, Minnesota, but when customers are ready to pick the aircraft up, they have to come to Knoxville, Tennessee. 

"We invite our clients to experience the Cirrus Life and East Tennessee natural beauty and culture," said Todd Simmons, the President of Customer Experience at Cirrus, in an emailed statement. 

Jeff Smith is the Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority Board of Commissioners and an aviation enthusiast. Smith said the customers that Cirrus brings in significantly affect the economy. 

Smith said Cirrus's customers generally spend between three and five days in East Tennessee while they take delivery of their aircraft. 

Cirrus said it estimates its customers spend a total of more than 4,000 nights in East Tennessee hotels.

"They're staying in the hotels, eating in our restaurants, participating in some activities locally," Smith said.

Cirrus isn't the only aviation company in East Tennessee. Smith said Bell Aircraft is one of the largest helicopter manufacturers and has all of its customization operations in upper East Tennessee. 

P.S. Engineering is headquartered in Lenoir City, and they manufacture airplane electronics. 

"They're all pretty significant players in their own niche," said Smith. "There's probably more aviation-related business here in East Tennessee than most people realize." 

Smith said he thinks the low cost of living, business-friendly policies and Tennessee's geography encourage aviation companies to bring operations here. 

"Tennessee is near a lot of the population in the United States, so your products can reach people fairly quickly," Smith said. 

The State of Tennessee estimates McGhee Tyson Airport contributes about $2.1 billion to the state's economy. 

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