The Sun is Still Shining!

Dr. Frank G. Mitchell
November 6, 2001

The long time CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, Dwane Wallace used to say when talking about general aviation in his speeches, "It’s still early in the morning and the sun is shining!". His point was that the general aviation industry was just beginning to reach its’ potential in the worlds’ transportation picture. I submit that outlook is still as true today as it was then.

Travel is an indispensable part of our lifestyle and while the recent tragedy in New York and Washington, D.C. was a serious wake-up call for Americans, our need to travel will continue and the general aviation industry will remain the backbone of our air transportation system to help fill that need.

It’s true that the commercial airline industry faces a period of re-adjustment due to the events of September llth. The effects of a decrease in airline services and the development of a sound security program will continue to be felt by the nation and the entire aviation industry for some time to come. But fortunately we have a strong multi-faceted general aviation industry to step in and fill the travel gaps where needed. General aviation aircraft range from small, single-engine planes to mid-size turboprops to the large turbofans capable of flying non-stop from New York to Tokyo. These planes are used for business purposes and recreation as well as everything from emergency medical evacuations to border patrols and fire fighting. They are also used by individuals, companies, state governments, universities and other interests to quickly and efficiently reach the more than 5,000 small and rural communities in the United States that are not served by commercial airlines.

With the recent decrease in airline schedules, aviation companies operating general aviation aircraft for charter, lease, and rental purposes have experienced increased bookings of more than 40% just to handle the business of companies and organizations who still need to travel and want to use a private and secure way to do it. In addition, many businesses are using various fractional ownership programs of general aviation companies who sell percentages of ownership in general aviation airplanes. This guarantees their exclusive use of planes with professional crews based on their usage need. This part of the industry has been so successful in providing air transportation that two airlines, United and Delta have established their own subsidiaries to also provide this type of travel service.

As a vibrant sector of our economy, general aviation has long been the most creative force in developing air transportation to facilitate the rapid movement of goods, services and people in urban and rural areas. In fact, over the last six years domestic production of general aviation airplanes has tripled, tens of thousands of new manufacturing jobs have been created, investment in research and development has increased over 150 percent and a host of exciting new aircraft models have or shortly will enter the market.

Kansans have particularly benefited from aviation. Although Boeing Wichita has been the states largest employer for a number of years, Wichita is the home of the nations general aviation industry, with the headquarters of Learjet(Bombardier Aerospace), Cessna Aircraft Company and Raytheon Aircraft Company. Wichita is truly the Air Capital of the World!

Aviation manufacturing is the largest manufacturing industry in the state of Kansas. Total direct employment at the four aircraft manufacturers in Kansas currently stands at 40,000 people with a payroll of more than $2 billion.

General aviation as an answer to our nations transportation needs is currently reflected in the development of three brand new midsize business jets by the Wichita plane builders. Bombardier’s Continental, Raytheon’s Hawker Horizon and Cessna’s Sovereign are all expected to enter the market within the next two to five years. Already the three companies say they are encouraged by the number of orders they have received for their new aircraft. The popularity of fractional ownership programs and the decline in airline travel will continue to stimulate demand for corporate jets built in Wichita.

Other new airplane products are also being developed or produced by other general aviation companies outside of Kansas as well. Names of new airplanes like AeroCourier and Cirrus in Minnesota, Liberty Aerospace in Colorado, Luscombe in Oklahoma, LanceAire in Oregon, Eclipse Aviation in New Mexico, JetCruzer in California, Safire Aircraft in Florida and Sino Swearingen in Texas are testimony to the great creativity which exists today.

The aviation people in Kansas and in the other states throughout the nation are very optimistic about the future of general aviation. They know it is a vital link in our nations’ transportation system and a way to reduce door-to-door travel times for a significant portion of the American public.

Many communities, particularly in small and rural markets are beginning to see their local general aviation airport as the key to economic development. Business, both large and small, use general aviation to make them more competitive by allowing them to turn travel time into productive time, reach multiple sites in a single day, and operate facilities outside of major metropolitan areas. And individuals everywhere are finding the use of private aircraft increases their personal mobility and allows them to routinely go places and do things that were previously not practical.

Yes, the sun is still shining because the potential of general aviation is still there to use and develop for the benefit of all of us.

Frank G. Mitchell is currently an adjunct professor of aviation management at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Extended Campus in Wichita and at The University of Oklahoma in Norman.