By Molly McMillin
ORLANDO — When the aviation industry went through the economic collapse of 2009, “it was a freefall,” the head of the National Business Aviation Association said Tuesday at a media breakfast at the Orange County Convention Center.
Today, the industry is operating in a challenging environment, one NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen calls the “new normal.”
Still, aviation companies exhibiting at this week’s NBAA annual convention and exhibition have lots of resolve.
“During the recession, most of the exhibitors have been investing in new products,” Bolen said. “Most haven’t hunkered down to survive. They’ve invested in the future.”
NBAA kicked off the opening of this year’s show with a general meeting.
There, members honored golfer Arnold Palmer, Cessna chairman emeritus Russ Meyer, Wichita native Clay Lacy and astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.
The group makes up a class of masterpilots. Each has more than 50 years of flying experience.
The show itself is dedicated to astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and an advocate for the business aviation industry. Armstrong died Aug. 25 at the age of 82.
“He’s in our hearts and in our history books,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, in his address before a general session held before the exhibit floor opened.
Moran spoke about the 32,000 Kansans who build and support airplanes and those who come to Wichita for parts and services.
“Many of you call Wichita the Air Capital of the World, and we intend to keep it that way,” Moran said.
The aviation industry is the largest segment of Wichita’s economy. The industry also is important for operators who use airplanes to conduct business, across the country and around the globe.
The biggest need of the industry is a growing and prosperous economy, Moran said. Then customers would feel comfortable enough to use and buy general aviation airplanes, he said.
The industry also needs certainty in the tax code, no threats from regulations, predictable health care costs and a long-term plan to reduce the federal deficit.
7,000 and counting
Hawker Beechcraft turned over the keys Tuesday afternoon to its 7,000th Beechjet King Air customer, Jeff Kittle.
Kittle is president and CEO of Herman & Kittle Properties in Indianapolis, which develops, builds and manages multi-family rental housing and self-storage facilities in 10 states. Company officials fly about 300 hours a year on business, mostly to visit current and potential properties.
The line of twin-engine turboprops began production in 1964. Since then, the line has amassed more than 45 million flight hours and the planes are operated in 127 countries around the world.
New jets unveiled
Cessna wasn’t the only manufacturer to introduce an upgraded version of a business jet. Dassault Falcon unveiled a new version of its Falcon XS mid-size airplane, called the Falcon LXS, with better range and performance than its 2000LX.
Honda Aircraft has started up the production line of its HondaJet entry-level twinjet, its president and CEO Michimasa Fujino said this week.
It’s also continuing the flight test program at its Greensboro, N.C., plant.
The company, which started in 2006, broke ground in September for a $20 million maintenance, overhaul and repair facility. That will add to the 514,300 square feet of space it has on 133 acres at its site, where it employs 750.
Honda is progressing toward certification and first delivery, expected next year.
Fujino also said the company intends to launch a follow-on airplane development program soon after completing the HondaJet aircraft.