65th Annual NBAA Convention, Orlando 2012 - A Personal Memoir

The possibility of a Presidential Temporary Flight Restriction coupled with the East-Coast landfall of Hurricane Sandy overshadowed the beginning of this year’s convention, the 8th to be held in Orlando since the first in this central Florida town in 1996 (see the historical list of convention cities below.)

Fortunately the U.S. President decided to cut his Orlando electoral campaigning visit short thus allowing the NBAA Aircraft Static Display to be settled in-place ready for opening time on Tuesday. The folks all-along the N.E. Coast did not do as well. The resulting death and destruction wielded by the Hurricane definitely reduced the number of people that actually attended.

My convention began in St. Louis on Monday morning at Lambert St. Louis International Airport’s East Terminal. I swear that virtually everyone attending from the Greater St. Louis area, were all on the same Southwest flight to Orlando as me. After many “hello-s” and see you “later-s” said, a taxi deposited me at the Peabody Hotel (the ride seems longer every-time I make it.) I really didn’t recognize the ‘Duck’ hotel since my last visit there in 2009 because it has tripled in size since then.

After a late lunch, some email catch-up, badge collection at the convention centre and a quick spruce up, I spent a couple of hours in the Atrium Lobby Bar during which the Duckmaster marched his foul group out of the bar fountain over to the waiting elevator to take these pampered ducks up to their Royal Suite (later in the week, my great friend and collegue: Mr. Tom Crowell, Jr. took an iPhone shot of a duck egg next to its Mallard Hen depositor laying at the fountain edge – quite bizarre.)

The Embraer customer appreciation party hosted at Disney’s EPCOT Centre was both classy and quite stunning. Welshman Ernie Edwards, Embraer Executive Jets President was ‘Mein Host’ for this extravagant evening, where the Legacy 450 was the talk of the tent, so-to-speak. I headed back to the ‘Duck-Bar’ at the Peabody while the fireworks started bomb-bursting over the Disney lake.

There was plenty of scuttle-buck to be digested once back at the marble palace on International Drive. Over a Ginger Beer I was gobsmacked by the news that Wichita was awash with both ‘white-tales’ and ‘painted-tails’ that were either unsold, or had recently been returned by their former owners, because the monthly payments were killing them. “...so the owner drops in and hands the keys to his airplane to the line service guy that greets him, and then promptly leaves in a taxi to hop the airlines home. “Critical mass” is what I heard said several times Monday night.

My Tuesday morning foray to the Static Display at the Orlando Executive Airport had me grateful that I haven’t succumbed to wearing a wig to hide my rapidly receding hairline. If I was as vane, my hairpiece would now be drinking from a saucer of milk somewhere on the Island of Bermuda. While chatting to an old friend in front of the Hawker 1000A that he was displaying at the show, I was convinced that his tent-concrete anchors and all were tugging off the ground in response to each gust. Talking of Hawkers...

...Hawker Beechcraft might have been better served by pulling the plug on their attendance at this year’s show. It was evident to many of us that they have reached the ‘Rome is burning stage’ in their business battle to stay afloat. Their displays both at the convention centre as well as at the static was ‘big-splash’ gargantuan, while the effect was a ‘splosh’ I’m afraid to say. Hawker Beechcraft Chairman, Mr. Bill Boisture has a tenuous row-to-hoe in bringing his company through to the other-side of the bankruptcy thundercloud that they are currently flying through. Many of the front-liners at this years’ show were more intent on selling themselves rather than the products that their company builds. Both the Premier and Hawker 4000 owners are contemplating their next move when their product-line support is relegated to orphan status. Walter and Olive-Ann Beech were never ‘jet people.’ They dominated the business aircraft piston and turbo-prop segment of the industry. Beechcrafts’ entre into the biz-jet arena started with the Moraine Saulnier 760 ‘Paris Jet’ in 1955. That program was short-lived. Next came the purchase of the Mitsubishi line in 1985, which has been problematic for them all these years since, as they look to once again re-engineer the long-serving MU300 Diamond design into a re-engine’ed ‘Williams-Rolls’ version of their Hawker 400XP. The original DeHavilland Dragon-Jet program also found a new home in Wichita at Beechcraft, where they have been final-assembled there ever since Beechcraft bought them from British Aerospace in 1994 starting with the tail-end of the Hawker 800A production-run, and now with the 850XP and 900XP being the current production versions of this venerable design and approximately 3,500 aircraft built in-total.

I will hate to see the day when Beechcraft stops making and selling a jet; it does appear however that this will come to pass. A track record of more than 6,500 turbo-props built by Beechcraft versus 3,500 jets does certainly put Mr. Boisture’s problem into perspective methinks.

On the opposite end of the economic spectrum, the Gulfstream static display area imbued a sense of supremacy. From an example of the soon to deliver G650 line, on down to the new G280 and dutiful G150 models that were on-display, the company looks so solid that it feels more like an institution rather than an aircraft manufacturer. Gulfstream refreshments and hospitality is second to none. A visit to the Gulfstream camp out at the Static is always on my agenda when attending the NBAA annual meeting and convention.

After lunch I motored South back to International Drive and entered the convention centre through the ‘Light Aircraft’ Static Display in the parking lot off to the side of this massive building which is the Orange County Convention Centre. There I saw that the Eclipse2 shall be sporting new avionics when it starts delivering again; Rockwell Collins introduced “a hip” cabin entertainment system called ‘Skybox’; Execjet Mobile brought their revolutionary low-cost wireless router to the show...and it turned into an ordering frenzy for the folks at their booth. Embraer had their Legacy 450 mock-up on display, while 3-new aircraft were announced on the exhibit floor: the Boeing BBJ-Max, the Dassault Falcon 2000LXS, and the new Cessna Sovereign.

I opted out of the Avfuel Party at the Hilton that evening, and instead managed to arrange my rental of a car so I could fulfil my invitation to join Mr. Tracy Forest, the Founder and Chairman of the Citation Jet Pilot / Owners Association at his hangar at the Sanford Airport (an hour N.E. of Orlando), along with a couple of hundred of his other friends that included Mr. Bob Hoover, Mr. Paul Poberezny, Mr. Clay Lacy, Mr. Joe Clark, Mr. Kermit Weeks, and many others, all there for his wonderful party called: ‘Cockpits and Cocktails.’ After watching a North American T-6 do low-level night aerobatics above us in our honour, while all the time it trailed, dropped and swirled firework, upon firework from both of its wingtips, the banquet that followed was quite decadent and the music made it beyond syncopating (McKinley & Beggs.) What a night, and yes Tracy does have a recreation of a Key West Quay House in the centre of his hangar!

06:30am came-way too soon for my liking back at the Duck Palace the next morning when I and about 500 other folks sat down to breakfast with Mr. Serge Dassault and his management crew at the Annual Dassault Falcon Family Breakfast. Here we learnt that 65 new Falcons (F2000’s, F900’s and 7X’s) would be delivered by the end of the December to complete their order book for 2012. The spectacular performance capabilities of the new Falcon 2000LXS was explained to us all, as well as a very touching tribute to the Late-Great founder of FlightSafety International, Mr. Al Ueltschi was provided us by Dassault’s President and CEO, Mr. John Rosanvallon. A great way to start the day!

Various meetings and roundtable events at the convention centre; several drinks meet-ups, a private dinner, and a restorative sleep quickly led up to Southwest flight homeward-bound on Thursday. After recuperating this weekend, I have had time and distance to reflect upon the success of this year’s Annual Meeting and Convention, and to sum it up in but a few words, I must say the following:

Amongst the week’s events that included an inconvenient Presidential visit, weather-borne tragedy, gloomy flight-hour utilization statistics (numbers are dropping), the threat of the introduction and passing into law of damnable “User Fees” possibly coming this January, along with the messy future for one of the industries longest running and better known OEM’s, the biggest news of the show was, in my opinion to be found at the booths of the Avionics vendors that were attending. This year’s event was neither earth-shattering, or knee trembling; it was however “steady as she goes.” I’m sorry if you missed it; this years show that is. Let’s plan on meeting up in Las Vegas at next year’s convention instead?

 
 

Annual Meeting Locations by Year.xlsx (13.56 kb)