A classic summer sojourn, we motored to Luray Caverns, hard by Virginia’s Skyline Drive. There, we ooh’d and ahh’d at the folds of hanging, rock hard veils, the millions-year-old stalagmites, the crystalline pools perfectly reflecting the riot of stalactites above and halls the size of cathedrals — one even complete with an organ that draws notes from the surrounding formations. It is a subterranean wonder.
But what gave me pause was learning that the Model 70 Touring car had neither an ignition system nor a transmission and that its motor comprised just 13 moving parts. Quite a technological feat by the proud engineering team at the Stanley Motor Carriage Co., Newtown, Mass., especially when you consider they delivered that Steamer a century ago.
As with most tourist attractions, Luray offers a catalogue of things to see and do, including touring its Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, where the Stanley Steamer is housed. While compact, the museum is jam-packed with priceless rolling stock in pristine operating condition bearing evocative marques including Hudson, Hupmobile and Locomobile. Combined, they exuded elegance and adventurism, mechanical inventiveness and practicality. And, of course, another shared element was their failure, largely the result of failing to adapt to changed circumstances of economics, technology, styling and comfort, or all those and more.
Finally, there are some encouraging signs that the business aviation industry is emerging from the deep, scary recession and the political pummeling that has beset it since late 2008. To the point, new aircraft deliveries were up – modestly, yes, but up — in all categories in 2013, and according to one major analyst, that positive trend continued in the first quarter. Further, Aviation Research reports flight activity increased in June for the seventh straight month. One major independent FBO said the first half of 2014 was its best in the last five years. And Congress is actually debating the merits of accelerated depreciation.
“It’s good news,” Aviation Research International/U.S. President and CEO Joe Moeggenberg told me a few weeks ago. “We’re heading back.”
If he is right, how has or should the industry change to avoid or at least minimize a recurrence of its recent travail? In short, how can it not do a Knox?
While there is no practical way to extricate from a global recession, two ongoing developments can help insulate the surviving business entities: consolidation and globalization. Of the former, the galloping growth of the FBO chains serves as a beacon. But nowAviation has adopted the same game plan used by the likes of and , and which others will surely follow.
And of the latter, airframers are doing deals in countries unknown a decade ago, while executives in Mobile, Ala., Kerrville, Texas, Duluth, Minn., and Menominee, Mich., are now judged by owners speaking Mandarin.
As for politics, “During the Go-Go days of 2005 and before the collapse, we didn’t pay enough attention to telling our story about the good jobs the industry represents and the positive economic impact it has in the U.S. and internationally,” says Pete Bunce, president and CEO of GAMA. So, the lesson learned? “We have to constantly educate policy makers on the local, state and national level of the importance of this industry to the nation.”
Moreover, “overregulation is a killer for the industry,” he says, so “we have to beat it back.”
Ed Bolen, the head of the NBAA, seconds both those points. He vividly recalls the freeze the proposed Large Aircraft Security Plan had on aircraft operators and their projected activities and purchases. The clueless proposal was the work of the Department of Homeland Security, a new federal agency that had little-to-no interaction with the business aviation community.
“The lesson learned? In good times and bad,” Bolen says, “you can’t ever step back from defining who you are and why you’re important to transportation and the economy.”
As for economic strength, Bolen salutes the manufacturers and service providers who “took the long-term approach” by investing in their own businesses during the darkest days of the recent Dark Age. The wave of new aircraft, avionics, service programs and services now coming to the fore, he says, have helped buoy the entire community and given rise to an optimism that is outpacing actual economic growth figures since “new products stimulate demand, and always have.”
The lesson? Invest when times are bad. “Don’t eat your seed corn,” says the native Kansan. “There will be a tomorrow and you need to invest.”
Dick Van Gemert, a true industry solon, reserves judgment on business aviation’s rebound, citing high corporate taxes, pressure on profit margins, the relative increase in fixed flight department costs and the rise of a new generation of corporate managers quite comfortable interacting digitally rather than face-to-face. He likens the circumstances to a “tapestry” of concerns without clear resolution. Yet.
Maybe similar ambiguity factored into the disappearance of Baker Motor Vehicle Co. Had it maneuvered correctly, the Cleveland, Ohio, carmaker might have changed the course of world history. But it failed to convince enough motorists that despite its smooth, silent, odorless delivery and potentially inexhaustible sourcing, electricity, not gasoline, was the right motive power. The company flared briefly, but by 1914 had disappeared.
A lesson in that as well.