OSH Notebook: More FAA Theatre
Babbitt and LaHood Arrive
As Thursday dawns cool and foggy and early departures are pulling their hair out trying to get home, we're told that SecDot Ray LaHood and FAA administrator Randy Babbitt will arrive sometime today for a press conference. (I somehow suspect this is subject to change.)
Even before this event happens, I could probably write the script for it. I'm sure there will be some questions about the thousands of FAA employees furloughed as a result of the re-authorization fiasco. While I'm sympathetic to anyone tossed into the unemployment line, my larger concern is with companies large and small that are impacted by this silliness, which is really nothing but pure political theater. Aviation isn't the only industry affected, I'm sure, but it's one of the most visible. This has produced the ultimate absurdity: the phantom FAA executive. A couple of them showed up at the ASTM briefing in mufti, explaining that they weren't really there officially, just observing.
More than once, I've heard comments to the effect that if the government can't do any better than this at managing its own affairs, might we actually be better off if it didn't come back at all? I'll concede the concept has a certain merit.
The other day I had lunch with some Australians who, upon noticing my AVweb shirt, asked what I thought about market recovery in the GA market. I explained that at AVweb, we have essentially enjoined ourselves from writing recovery stories. We've stopped asking CEOs, marketers and sales people about this because the simple fact is they don't know. No one does, so constructing news stories on the premise that one company expects this or that is a waste of time and pixels.
That's not to say I'm gloomy about the future of GA, just that whatever you want to call recovery will happen when and how it happens. There's not much individual companies, alphabets or anybody else can do about this because it has to do with world-scale market forces none of us have seen before. When and if the demand for airplanes of all kinds returns, the industry will come back, but it may not look like it did in 2007 for quite some time, if it ever does. The smart companies will and are adapting to this reality.
The notion that the industry itself is somehow doing something wrong and can push the reset button to turn things around strikes me as so much hot air. If there's some transformational technology or marketing strategy out there to do this, please, someone tell me what that is. AirVenture seems to be a potboiler for creative ideas—in marketing, in technology, in sales—and the slam-dunk next big thing seems to elude. I'll let you know if we see it. A press release with the phrase "game changer" isn't quite what I had in mind.
Yet, still…there are green shoots. One of these is Avidyne's surprise announcement of avionics products—a full plug-and-play slide in for Garmin's GNS530. Avionics purchases have come to dominate the upgrade budgets of many owners and having additional choices beyond Garmin is a net plus for everyone. Garmin's engineering and marketing competence have given it all but monopolistic dominance in the industry and having a serious competitor like Avidyne come along will both give customers a choice and keep Garmin on its toes.
Diamond: Missing in Action
The fact that Diamond Aircraft skipped AirVenture this year for cost reasons has ignited minor discussions on whether this matters. Does it impact sales and prestige if a company decides not to attend the major event of the year?
I've heard both sides of the argument, frankly. The so-called flag-waving sentiment suggests that appearing at AirVenture, while it doesn't result in direct orders, pays dividends throughout the year because buyers see you as a serious player if you've staked out a quarter acre of grass in what is, for one week, the most expensive real estate in aviation. It's kind of a you've-got-to-suffer-if-you-want-to-sing-the-blues sort of thing.
On the other hand, it costs these companies real money to attend these shows and large sums of real money to attend them all. My view is that it's a rational business decision to forgo a show. These days, buyers know who you are and where you are. It's hard to imagine that skipping a show or two is going to change that much.
There are always surprises at AirVenture and this year's biggest may be the abrupt retirement of Tom Poberezny, followed by the obligatory round of laudatory press releases. It's hard to tell if this was a ritual beheading or a semi-planned thing that just sort of spun out of control under the intense heat of AirVenture. A disagreement with the board? No one's saying on the record.
Whatever the reason, Poberezny deserves better. Whether a change at the top was needed or not, doing it in the middle of the major show of the year strikes me as just unnecessary, distracting from the other events that people come here to see. Besides, there is this: Tom Poberezny and his father Paul had the vision to build what has become an aviation event that's every bit as significant as any held on the planet. Not many individuals can make that claim and if you ask me, that's worth remembering.