User fees still a threat, remind industry leaders
Senior executives at Wichita’s two largest general aviation manufacturers, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft, seem to be looking beyond the short-term economic slowdown to establish strategies for dealing with even bigger issues, such as user fees.
During a meeting Jan. 28, Hawker Beechcraft Chairman and CEO James E. Schuster reiterated to AOPA President Craig Fuller his stance that user fees must be stopped.
“If it was important before, it’s really important now—almost a matter of life and death,” said Schuster, noting that members of Congress and the media who don’t understand the role of business aviation are already attacking the industry at a time when it is seeing dramatically reduced sales numbers because of the economy. Fuller shared with Schuster that AOPA has increased its staff and contractor relationships in Washington, D.C., to do battle again this year against user fees if it is necessary.
“We don’t believe anyone wants a fight given all of the competing priorities,” said Fuller, “but those who would do us harm should know that we are better armed and better prepared for a prolonged battle than ever before. Our position is clear and unchanging regarding user fees.”
During a tour of the impressive Hawker Beechcraft factories, Fuller watched as automated Viper machines spun composite Beechcraft Premier IA fuselages, with one operator turning out a fuselage section in only a few hours. While the company has seen layoffs and may endure more layoffs, it is still busy producing aircraft from the legendary Bonanza to the continent-leaping Hawker 4000 business jet.
After addressing the Wichita Aero Club, Fuller toured the Cessna CJ production line, stopping to ask workers about their responsibilities. Twelve-year veteran Jeanette Grimes proudly shared how she spins miles of wiring into bundles and connectors that make up the guts of the popular business jets. Stretching the cables and connectors across a mockup of an airplane takes about a day, she said, readying the gear for installation into an airplane.
Fuller got the chance sample some of Grimes’ work when he flew a new CJ2+ across the state to visit Cessna’s single-engine and Mustang production lines in Independence, Kan. There, the company recently reconfigured its piston production line to install engines later in the process, saving steps and reducing costs. A similar process is being developed for the Mustang.
Wrapping up the second day of his Midwest tour of General Aviation Leaders, Fuller met with industry leaders from FlightSafety International, Bombardier Learjet, Hawker Beechcraft, and ADR, Inc. who recently organized the Wichita Aero Club.
January 29, 2009