Ground Clutter

Oct. 8, 2002

NBAA Revisited

My first NBAA Convention was in Dallas, about 1984, I believe. Piper had the brand new Cheyenne 400LS for sale. It would do 400 statute miles per hour, and we Piper sales folk were excited about it. We figured Piper would be the big news at NBAA. It didn’t happen.

While Piper was busy announcing that it had an aircraft that did go 400 mph, Beechcraft (not Raytheon then, young folks, but Beechcraft) announced that they were going to build an aircraft – the Starship – that would go 400 mph. We Piper types chuckled. After all, we had the real airplane at the airport, ready to demonstrate, and ready to sell. Beechcraft had a scale model of the Starship, built by Burt Rutan and company. It flew over the airport. It didn’t land. By then we Piper types were scoffing out loud.

Guess who stole the show? Beechcraft, that’s who. And they taught us a whole lot about showmanship and the mystique of the fabled Beechcraft name.

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he’s insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. Reach him at [email protected]

That was my first NBAA. With an introduction like that, you’d think I would have a sour taste about NBAA’s big show, but I don’t. I enjoy the thing, if only because it is just so, well, awesome.

If you ever wonder about the buying power of general aviation, the NBAA show will change your mind. Everybody who is anybody is there, scrambling for their share of the corporate aviation market, and spending a fortune doing it. They come back every year, so you figure they must be getting their money’s worth.

If I had to guess, I’d figure the big boys and the would-be big boys – including Cessna, Piper, Boeing, Airbus, Eclipse, Raytheon, Embraer, Bombardier, and a myriad others –must spend well over a million each on their exhibits. The big boys ain’t dumb, so you got to figure it’s worth it to them.

Cessna claims 424 jet orders announced and/or obtained during the show. No less than 217 of those were the new Mustang, and they tell me those orders all originated during the show. (That’s big bucks, and I like to wander around the show and just wonder which of the people I see is capable of buying a jet for a few million.)

On the other end of the scale are small exhibitors with one booth, pushing fabric, nuts and bolts, paint jobs, and other goodies. My city –Huntsville, AL – had a booth, manned by our airport’s Brooks Kracke, enthusiastically extolling Huntsville as the perfect place to set up industrial plants.

NBAA is so big that many in our industry "piggy back" by having meetings and parties during the show, just to catch the crowd. Avfuel, among others, always throws a great shindig, and Women in Aviation – which has to be one of the fastest growing groups in our industry – has a successful breakfast.

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By the way, some of you might remember that little over a year ago, I wrote a column saying that the Eclipse would never happen. Well, it flew just before NBAA. I went by the Eclipse exhibit to give my heartfelt congratulations to Vern Raburn. I always said I hoped to be proved wrong. I’m not eating crow yet, and won’t until they meet specs and sell it – at a profit – for the unbelievably low price they promise.

No, I’m not eating crow yet; but I do believe that Vern Raburn is setting the table.