NBAA 2005: You Say You Want An Evolution?

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Later today, the doors will close on the 2005 edition of the National Business Aviation Association's Annual Meeting and Convention, held this year in Orlando, Fla. At this writing, the final numbers on attendance and the like aren't yet tallied up, but we can go out on two limbs. One, this year's edition of what is North America's largest indoor aviation exhibit was a success. This is despite the diversion from New Orleans only two months ago and the slight shift in the schedule; this year's show ran from Wednesday to Friday instead of the traditional Tuesday-through-Thursday event. That meant Friday was a lighter day on the exhibit floor than normal. And, while it's unlikely attendance set any records, the number of exhibitors -- more than 1100 -- and aircraft on static display -- 110 -- did. Two, with one possible exception we'll get to in a moment, there wasn't anything astoundingly earthshaking to be seen, heard or flown. So, the 2005 edition probably will be remembered more as an evolutionary show, rather than revolutionary. After all, even Hank Aaron couldn't hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate.

If anyone was hoping for a show like the one in 1983, for example, when Burt Rutan and Beechcraft stunned the bizav faithful with their radical Starship, they were disappointed. Sure, a few airframers announced new variants of existing models featuring enhanced performance. Others gave updates to existing development programs or added names and features to aircraft that still exist only as mock-ups. A handful of manufacturers eyed the home stretch of their races to certification as they toted up even more orders, glancing hurriedly at that date on the calendar by which they promised they'd have a new airplane. So, rather than a flock of new and innovative announcements (again, with that one exception we'll get to in a moment), the action at this year's show was less frenzied, more mature and, perhaps, involved greater introspection -- can the industry's good times last? -- than at any time since the down-in-the-dumps 1990s. There were some neat things said, done and advertised, to be sure -- for proof, just keep reading -- but the 2005 show is not likely to go down as one of the best ever. At the same time, it certainly won't be labeled as the worst. Think of this year's NBAA convention as a long flight through heavy weather where everything on the airplane and in the front office worked as it was supposed to. You'll remember it, it was a good, worthwhile experience, but you're still glad to be home.