Up in the sky: Guam exploring opportunities in aerospace and aviation to diversify economy
Updated: Oct 7
By Frank Whitman
Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio said he believes that his active membership in the Aerospace States Association will allow him to better understand and influence decisions and policies related to aerospace that affect Guam.
After being invited by ASA’s national chair, Tenorio attended the organization’s annual meeting in Colorado in July. He was selected to chair its National Policy Committee and also moderated a panel discussion on Emerging Market Opportunities.
Tenorio said that at the meeting he was able to identify, learn about and promote opportunities in aerospace and aviation to diversify Guam’s economy. He also learned more about the planned Guam missile defense system and took advantage of other opportunities to promote Guam issues.
The idea of using Guam’s aviation infrastructure for endeavors other than commercial or military purposes took a significant step forward in 2019 when Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, announced plans to send small satellites into low earth orbit from Andersen Air Force Base’s 2-mile-long runways. That project collapsed when Virgin Orbit went into bankruptcy in 2021.
However, the advantage of utilizing Guam’s location, geography and aviation infrastructure to fill to-be-developed niches with something other than commercial aviation has sparked some new thinking.
“We’ve always talked about Guam’s strategic area and trying to use that as a way to transship things into other areas in the region,” Tenorio said. “The Virgin Orbit’s engagement got me thinking. We have relatively isolated air space compared to city centers where you have thousands of aircraft going off each day.” He said the level of air traffic is one more indication of the aviation opportunities on Guam
“During the emerging market panel discussion, a couple of the companies said, ‘Guam is actually on our radar; we have a business model that we’re thinking about places,’” Tenorio said.
Also discussed during the meeting was the rapidly developing role of artificial intelligence; the countless, and growing, number of telecommunications satellites; and the role Guam is currently playing in hosting a NASA satellite communications station.
“The more things we are able to get operating here, the more jobs there will be, the more opportunities for people to stay,” he said.
The National Policy Committee has about a dozen members, Tenorio said. In the short time since he was named chair, he has been meeting with and organizing the group and its procedures via virtual meetings.
He is also planning an ASA event on Guam. “I’ll be canvassing the island, identifying some of the companies operating here in this area that are not necessarily known,” he said. “(I’ll be) building the community and then trying to use that community to support the endeavors, especially at the airport, which is the people of Guam’s asset.”
He plans to work with the business interests that are affiliated with, or supportive of, aviation and “organizing that support within the business community and hopefully bringing some of the players that are operating on Guam for them to be known and for them to work together as we evolve.”
One of his prime reasons for participating with ASA, Tenorio said, is to learn as much as he can about the military’s planned missile defense system, to “have access to more information to expand the network that Guam needs in order to navigate and understand what’s ahead of us.”
It’s important to understand the role that “we’re obviously playing,” he added.
The Leon Guerrero administration has been trying “to expand the capacity of the Air Guard, trying to get a wing over, trying to get them more involved in Space Command missions, things like that,” he said.
While at the ASA meeting, he was “able to have a good conversation with the commanding general of the Space Command, who is going to play a role in the defense system,” he said.
“There’s probably going to be missions and assignments,” Tenorio said. “And if our Guam Guard has the expertise or we understand what we need to do to grow their expertise to be part of the operators then that’s what I would like to help get done.”
He also noted that the private sector would likely play roles supporting the system and/or constructing it.
The effort to understand the plans and ensure Guam-based entities are involved is “all part of making sure that we advance the Guam interests,” he said.
The Aerospace States Association describes itself as “a nonpartisan organization of lieutenant governors, governor-appointed delegates, and associate members from aerospace organizations and academia representing states’ interests in federal aerospace and aviation policy development,” according to its website. It “advocates on behalf of all 50 states for research and design funding; workforce training; economic development in aerospace and aviation; excellence in science, technology, engineering and math education; and keeping states competitive in a global marketplace.”