Aviation

Wichita has strong presence at NBAA

ATLANTA — Bret Heinz and Rick Hemphill were working Mid Continent Controls' exhibit Tuesday afternoon, where the company was showing off its aircraft cabin management and entertainment systems at the National Business Aviation Association convention.

"We're here to support our customers," Heinz said at the exhibit inside the Georgia World Congress Center. "They put our products in their aircraft."

The Derby business that designs and builds the systems it sells is one of about 30 Kansas companies exhibiting at the 63rd annual show, the fourth-largest U.S. trade show. About 25,000 people are expected to attend the show, which runs through Thursday.

Despite the large show, it's easy to find Wichitans. Many of the industry's professions are in Wichita — or they spent time in Wichita at some point in their careers.

On Tuesday, yellow-striped carpeting led show attendees down escalators to the show floor to sounds of aircraft taking off playing in the background.

It was Aviation Dynamix's second year to exhibit. Although the down economy meant for lower traffic a year ago, it was a good show for the company, said co-owner Sarah Grosvenor.

"We made some very good contacts," she said. "We want to continue to keep our name (out there) and meet new clients."

The company ferries airplanes, takes delivery of planes for customers and provides mentoring and training.

The Greater Wichita Economic Development's booth was a busy place Tuesday afternoon.

"It seems like the energy is really up this year," said GWEDC marketing manager Tammy Nolan.

Those who stopped by could try to win a Big Dog motorcycle by throwing seven letter dice. Rolling "W-I-C-H-I-T-A" wins the bike.

The game has helped people stay at the booth to talk, Nolan said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the GWEDC officials had met with some smaller Wichita companies. They will follow up and try to set up meetings with the representatives, Nolan said.

At a nearby booth, Randy Kenyon, a sales executive with Wichita-based Professional Insurance Management, said the company is there to visit with customers.

"We usually pick up some business," Kenyon said. It also gives customers and underwriters a chance to meet with one another.

Business jets' non-business roles

The day started with a media breakfast with industry updates from the NBAA and General Aviation Manufacturers Association executives, followed by a general opening session.

Business aviation accounts for more than a million U.S. jobs and helps companies do business, GAMA president Pete Bunce said. A lesser-known fact, however, is the number of aircraft operators who use their planes for humanitarian efforts for transporting medical patients or to help with disaster relief. More than 600 business jets, for example, flew supplies and personnel to Haiti, he said.

To help promote the importance of aviation, governors of 17 states, including Kansas, have declared an Aviation Appreciation month.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, golfer Arnold Palmer and investor Warren Buffett spoke out in favor of the industry in an awareness campaign called "First Fore Most."

Buffett once called business aviation "indefensible," NBAA president Ed Bolen said. Now he calls it "indispensable."

Innovations

Piper Aircraft unveiled its upgraded PiperJet, renamed the PiperJet Altaire.

Former Hawker Beechcraft executive Randy Groom, now a Piper marketing executive, noted that the changes will help the very light jet's design evolve.

"The airplane is the beginning of what will be a family of airplanes going into the future," Groom said.

Wichita-based Millennium Concepts is building the seats for the $2.6 million jet. The seats have been tested for safety and comfort, officials said. They are on display at the Piper booth.

The plane, meanwhile, has been updated for a larger cabin and targeted range of 1,300 nautical miles and a maximum cruise speed of 360 knots. First flight is expected in 2012 with deliveries beginning in 2014.

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