Aviation

Meyer confident recovery will get here

Cessna Aircraft chairman emeritus Russ Meyer has experienced multiple booms and busts in the aviation industry in his more than 40 years in the business.

He's learned some lessons along the way.

In the current downturn, a sustainable recovery might take longer than expected, but good news lies ahead, Meyer said.

Meyer, who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and has earned top awards in the industry for his achievements, was the keynote speaker at the Wichita Aero Club luncheon on Monday.

"These recessions hurt," Meyer said. "They take time to recover."

This year and next year will be tough. Backlogs are lower, and orders remain slow.

But history has shown that strong demand has followed downturns.

"In every case, the recovery brought us to a higher level of growth and performance," Meyer said.

Industry leaders should heed lessons learned from previous downturns, he said.

They must look each day for ways to cut expenses every way possible, while investing in product development to give customers reasons to buy new aircraft rather than used.

They also must also recognize the importance of teamwork, he said.

During the 1960s, manufacturers formed the General Aviation Manufacturers Association industry trade group as a way to work together for common goals.

During the 1960s, Cessna and Piper produced nearly 90 percent of aircraft built.

In the 1970s, general aviation experienced explosive growth.

Cessna delivered 7,200 planes. By 1978, deliveries had grown to nearly 18,000 — an all-time high, he said.

Cessna was building 34 airplanes every working day.

People were learning to fly, financing programs were attractive, and tax credits, which were eliminated a few years ago, were a good incentive.

"Talk about the good ol' days," Meyer said.

Then came the 1980s and five years of sharp decline spurred by high interest rates, energy issues, high product liability costs and the economy.

In 1981, for example, Cessna employed more than 12,000 people. By 1986, fewer than 3,000 worked there.

During that time Meyer made the most difficult decision in his career, he said.

"We stopped production of piston aircraft," Meyer said.

He spent years lobbying for product liability reform. After Congress passed the General Aviation Revitalization Act, Meyer, as promised, built a plant in Independence and restarted piston aircraft production.

The 1990s was a "golden decade," he said. The market grew through 2008, when business jet deliveries hit a record. International sales grew sharply.

"The 21st century made us a truly global industry," Meyer said.

"We were all celebrating record performances in 2008.... Almost overnight, things started to unravel. (And) the impact on our industry was sudden and horrendous."

Cessna had unprecedented order cancellations. Used aircraft prices plummeted.

"It will recover, and the market will be strong again," he said after his speech. "And we'll all go around without long faces again."

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