John Leahy Keeps on Pushing the Industry

Hot dog, I just found out I know the man who is—according to a story in the September 30 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST)—the “most successful salesman in the history of aviation.”

In fact, this man used me several times to speak to other airplane salesmen. That gives me pretty good bragging rights, I figure. The story goes back to the 1970s and 1980s when I was selling Piper aircraft. John Leahy was teaching sales classes for Piper at the time, and he was good at it. Today, Leahy is Airbus’s COO-customers. Not a bad job, any way you look at it.

Once, at a press conference put on by Pratt & Whitney (P&W), I asked some high-up P&W folks if they were familiar with John Leahy. There was a slight pause as they looked at each other, then they explained to me that perhaps Leahy had more to do with Airbus’s success than anyone else. I was impressed.

Later, at another P&W press conference, I was eating with some “real” writers (some of them had even studied journalism in college) from AW&ST and I asked them about Leahy. Again, there was the slight pause, then they, too, gave me pretty much the same answer. Leahy was perhaps, or probably, the man who had more to do with Airbus’s sales success than any other person.

They then asked how I knew Leahy. They were delighted with my story, explaining that everyone marveled that Leahy went from selling “Piper Cubs” to selling Airbuses.

I don’t know much about Leahy’s younger years, but one day when we were flying from Dallas to Montgomery in an Aztec, he told me that he had flown freight in an Aztec at night when he was in college. That was a hard job, even if you could sleep all day. To do it and attend classes during the day had to be tough, and tells you volumes about Leahy.

I’ve seen Leahy at various aviation trade shows since the 1980s and interviewed him by telephone for the 2005 column. I gotta admit, though, that he’s never hired me to speak for Airbus, even though I’vehinted to him about it with no shame. You reckon it’s because I don’t speak French?

As I wrote in a recent blog, Airbus has announced plans to build a regional airliner powered by electric turbines (with a gas turbine recharging batteries) by 2030. That is wonderful. I have long had more faith in industry solving our fuel problems than guvmint, and this seems to make that point strongly.

Everywhere I look, the industry pushes toward real improvements (how long have we had winglets, now?) while our guvmint loses fortunes by investing in Solyndra, Fisker cars and ethanol.

To be totally fair, NASA is researching electric airplanes, also. Maybe that’s the best job for guvmint. Research, yes, but leave investing to the free market.