Fresh Blood for Aviation, One Waiter at a Time
Some of my favorite people are in aviation and I'm really lucky that my job makes me stay in touch with them. One of the best, in everyone's book, is Kate Dougherty from Cirrus and, although we both have our hair on fire at shows, we try to make time to have a snack and a drink together to get caught up on everything that's going on in our lives, aviation and otherwise.
So, after being rather rudely greeted at several spots on International Drive in Orlando during the National Business Aviation Association convention a couple of weeks ago, we found a welcoming reception at Tony Roma's, whose "Friendship Table" suited us perfectly.
Our waiter, Dan, was one of those perfect servers who seems to know exactly when you want something. He also had pretty good hearing. After the preliminaries of family, job and dreams, Kate and I were talking airplanes and Dan couldn't keep away. Turns out he'd spotted a weird looking aircraft in the movie Iron Man, and, since it didn't make sense to him, he was hoping we could tell him what it was all about. He went to his car to get a portable DVD player, queued up the scene in the movie, and I was able to tell him with some authority that the tricked-out 737 in the movie was a Hollywood invention.
We got talking. He asked us, so we told him why we were there, and we both saw that look. Sometimes airplane freaks consider the barriers to the industry so high that they just don't see a place for themselves beyond the departure gates. Dan is an excellent waiter, but his head was in the clouds.
What followed was, in my opinion, unnecessarily complicated.
NBAA is open to delegates, exhibitors and the press only. Dan wasn't welcome.
So Kate offered up a Cirrus guest pass, I volunteered to meet him at the convention center the next day, and we exchanged cell phone numbers.
As I headed to work the next day, I figured the chances that Dan would actually follow up were between slim and none. Talk is cheap, and I figured we were nothing more than a bigger-than-average tip to a better-than-average waiter.
Well, at 8 a.m., he called and by 9 he was waiting for me in the convention center, wearing a neatly pressed white shirt and tie and ready to enter a strange and exciting world. I fixed him up with the pass that Kate, who was catching Air Cirrus back to Duluth that day, had left for him at their booth and turned him loose while I did some work.
We met for lunch, went out to the static display, and the last I saw him, he had a backpack full of information on career opportunities and was headed to the FAA booth to talk about becoming a controller.
Now, what would make the story perfect would be that Dan was an inner-city kid pulling himself out of a troubled existence, but the truth is that Dan is doing just fine. There's a reason your favorite waiter has been at your favorite restaurant for years, and it's because the money is pretty good. Also, Dan is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his family is about to develop a small part of their beachfront property for high-end vacation condos.
But his interest and his initial step into aviation give me a good feeling about where he'll end up. The big question is why did it take the combined efforts of a major manufacturer and media outlet to get him through the door?
A new aviation show in Hyderabad, India last week had a trade-only show for three days and then allowed the public in, for a reduced admission price, on the Saturday. As the industry faces labor shortages and declining interest as a whole, it's something the big shows might consider. Kate figures four hours on the last day would be enough.
I know why NBAA and other trade shows keep them private. They want only "serious" players visiting their booths. In his own way, Dan was every bit as serious as anyone else at that show and -- who knows -- because of a funny-looking airplane in a movie, he might become a player in the industry.
But whatever becomes of Dan's aspirations, I know of a great ground-floor condo opportunity in the Caribbean ... .