Future of GA sparks debate at Wichita event

December 13, 2012

Witchita panel

Leading aviation editors debated whether Wichita can remain the Air Capital of the World, and discussed the promise of electric and diesel propulsion, at the Wichita Aero Club’s annual On-Air Summit.

A debate about whether Wichita, Kan., is or will continue to be the Air Capital of the World kicked off the annual On-Air Summit hosted by the Wichita Aero Club on Dec. 12. Leading aviation editors debated that subject and many others during the session . Flightglobal's Stephen Trimble and Bill Garvey of Business and Commercial Aviation magazine both in the past few years have written articles about the impact of aviation and its current struggles on Wichita. Looking back, both noted that the city has fared reasonably well given the challenges, with Trimble optimistic that if companies are willing to continue research-and-development projects in the region, Wichita can hold on to the title.

Speaking about innovation in general aviation, Mac McClellan, director of publications for the Experimental Aircraft Association, praised especially developments in avionics and flight control systems, but felt another innovation, electric propulsion, would not find a home in GA in the foreseeable future. However, Tom Haines, editor in chief and senior vice president of Media for AOPA, disagreed. While there is little likelihood of electric airplanes being used for transportation soon, the idea of an electrically powered light sport aircraft for recreational flying is highly likely, he said, especially since Yuneec Aircraft is already experimenting with an airplane capable of 90 minutes of electrically powered flight.

Wichita panel Left to right: Mike Potts, contributor to Professional Pilot; Flightglobal's Stephen Trimble; AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines; Bill Garvey of Business and Commercial Aviation; Mac McClellan, director of publications for the Experimental Aircraft Association; Robert Goyer, editor in chief of Flying; and Molly McMillin, aviation reporter for The Wichita Eagle.

Haines and Robert Goyer, editor in chief of Flying magazine, agreed that diesel engines hold great promise, especially in regions of the world where avgas is not available. Goyer also pointed out the greater fuel efficiency of diesels, helping to lower costs.

Moderator Molly McMillin, aviation reporter for The Wichita Eagle newspaper, asked Mike Potts, a contributor to Professional Pilot magazine, whether a reconstituted Beechcraft could successfully emerge from bankruptcy building only propeller-driven airplanes. In the 1980s and 1990s Potts worked in public and media relations for the company. Potts and others on the panel agreed that it could, given the strength of the King Air, Baron, and Bonanza lines, and the support opportunity for those products.

The club meets monthly but holds such summits featuring panel discussions only annually. On Jan. 26 it holds its annual gala at the Wichita Doubletree hotel. There Airbus Americas Engineering and its current head, John O'Leary, will be recognized as the third recipient of the Wichita Aero Club Trophy. For more information, visit the Wichita Aero Club website.