You would expect more cheers than tears at any industry gathering. Still, the news out of last week’s National Business Aviation Association convention seemed unusually upbeat, raising hopes that a rebound for Wichita’s planemakers may be real this time.
The Eagle’s aviation reporter, Molly McMillin, won her own richly deserved honor at the Las Vegas event, the NBAA’s 2013 Gold Wing Award for journalism excellence. And her reporting from the convention portrayed a brightening picture for business aviation after several years of canceled orders, mass layoffs and presidential put-downs.
Among the welcome developments:
• Thanks to new products and innovations under development, the market for light and medium-sized business jets is expected to grow over the next decade. A forecast unveiled at the convention by Honeywell called for deliveries to hit a low this year, with demand for light jets and medium-sized jets likely to increase over the next decade by 9 and 13 percent, respectively. North American demand is even anticipated to rise.
• Beechcraft Corp. announced it had delivered 163 aircraft during the first nine months of 2013, up from 111 for the same period last year. That impressive increase of 47 percent came in a year in which the company exited bankruptcy; the company also is negotiating with a potential buyer for its Hawker 4000 and Premier business jet assets. “Part of the news is, we’re here,” CEO Bill Boisture told reporters. Last week also saw the CEO of membership-based Wheels Up take the keys to the first of up to 105 King Air 350i turboprops, in what was a record-setting order.
• Cessna Aircraft Co., which is ramping up new products and cost-cutting, has increased production significantly for the next year and expects to deliver 248 business jets in 2015 amid “further strong recovery.” It also announced a landmark deal in which Citation Mustang business jets will be flown for charter services in China.
• Bombardier, which celebrated Learjet’s 50th anniversary at the convention, has received 30 more orders from fractional ownership company Flexjet for the Wichita-assembled Learjet 85, for a total 60 Flexjet orders. It expects the composite business jet to have its first flight later this year and enter service in late 2014.
• Dozens of Kansas businesses were represented at the NBAA event, where the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and its partners aimed to make an impression on the 25,000 attendees with a big yellow booth.
NBAA president Ed Bolen set his own optimistic tone: “We’re now five years into the Great Recession. Things fell off for us pretty significantly. Things were tough. People made adjustments. But you know what? Through it all, the people in our industry continued to invest in new products. They continued to invest in the future. We never ate the seed corn. And today we’re seeing a lot of that coming to the market. We’re seeing all of that investment coming to fruition.”
Business aviation appears ready to grow. Now, if only leaders in Washington, D.C., will do their part to foster a business environment that is stable and inviting.