Seeing the Aviation Glass Half Full
01.10.13 · Deanna Harms
Self-help counselors tell us to set happiness expectations for the day, because that mindset – anticipating good things to come our way – becomes self-fulfilling. We encourage those in business aviation to adopt that philosophy for 2013. While we cannot will aircraft sales into being, we can approach every challenge with a solutions orientation.
Just before the holidays, the Wichita Aero Club hosted its eagerly anticipated On-Air Summit. While panelists spoke about the global aviation industry, they directed most of their comments to Wichita, an aviation cluster especially hard hit by the 2008 recession.
“I’m in the very awkward position of being the optimist,” said Flightglobal editor and panelist Steve Trimble, drawing a laugh from the crowd and fellow panelists.
He followed his sunny projection with solid observations, chiefly that Boeing chose to build its 737 MAX from an existing airframe, allowing Spirit AeroSystems to retain the fuselage work well into the future – essentially until Boeing goes to a clean-sheet aircraft.
Redefining and Reimagining
Panelist and Professional Pilot editor Mike Potts, who worked at Beech earlier in his career, agreed with Hawker Beechcraft’s decision to shed its jet lines and the first part of its name. Emerging from bankruptcy focused on turboprops – the King Air, Baron, Bonanza and military trainers – lets Beechcraft Corp. play to its strength. Panelist and EAA Publications contributor Mac McClellan added, “I’m very excited and bullish about the future for Beech with propeller airplanes.”
Aviation Week editor-in-chief and panelist Bill Garvey wrote an article in 2009 that asked whether Wichita could go the way of Detroit. “I think it’s very telling that we’re still asking that question,” he said. A number of panelists made a case for why Wichita is not and will not become a Detroit. A more diverse economy. A good educational system. A strong infrastructure. Investment in the National Center for Aviation Training.
These advantages create added cause for optimism, they said.
McClellan summarized the difference, saying the auto industry left Detroit, while in Wichita’s case the whole aviation industry has dwindled. That hurts in a community where one in 10 people work in aviation. The yet-to-rebound light and midsize business-aircraft segments continue to generate head-scratching. For a time they couldn’t build those planes fast enough. “What happened?” McClellan asked.
Go Big or Go Home
It seems counterintuitive that planes with a higher price point are outselling their smaller, more pocketbook-friendly brethren.
“The new norm is if an airplane costs more than $45 million it’s going to be successful,” McClellan said. What will happen moving forward, no one knows. “Pistons never recovered to their 1970s level,” said McClellan, “I hope that’s not true of the light and medium business jets.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association publications SVP Tom Haines warned that the fiscal cliff – which he called more of a ramp-down – could adversely affect general aviation, saying it “could be chilling on major capital purchases.”
All agreed that general aviation is going through a period of transformation and no one has a clear picture of what it will look like when it comes through on the other side. From a changing customer base to changes in the aircraft themselves. Electric powered. Electronically controlled flight. All composite. Super efficient. Manufactured here, there and everywhere. “I haven’t seen this level of investment in decades,” said Garvey. Yes challenges remain. Fuel prices. Union contract negotiations. Pilot shortages. Governmental issues. Increased globalization. Replacing leaded avgas. Even Wichita’s lack of a deep sea port.
The Will to Win
“I’m optimistic about the future,” said Flying magazine editor-in-chief and panelist Robert Goyer. “People have these aircraft because they’re useful.” Never mind about Wichita’s landlocked status. Its diversified aviation cluster and commitment to innovation and investment can pull it through. “Wichita should stand up and shout what it’s doing.”
We agree there’s cause to be bullish about business aviation. For one, several of the panelists flew their own planes to the summit.
*This article originally appeared in the January 10th issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.