In November, The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) held its annual convention in Orlando, Florida.
I managed to sneak out of work early on a warm, Thursday afternoon and visited the NBAA flight-line at Orlando Executive Airport, KORL. There were so many brand new business jets parked on the ramp it was impossible to view them all.
Walking through the enormous, on-site registration hangar my first impression was that the NBAA is not your father’s Sun-n-Fun aviation event. There were no used parts flea market, nor vendors in campers selling old tube-style avionics, nor homebuilt aircraft on display. Clearly, these patrons are not the type to turn wrenches on their own aircraft.
Dozens of exhibitors and major corporations spent big dollars entertaining folks contemplating spending anywhere from $5 million to $100 million for an aircraft. Conventioneers were well dressed, with men in suits and women in heels. Attractive young models handed out complimentary bottles of chilled water as you wandered among large static displays, or strolled through voluminous air conditioned tents, outfitted with plush furniture and thick pile carpeting.
The array of kero-burners was impressive. We toured the inside of Wayne Huizenga’s BBJ 737 to get some ideas on how to redecorate the Bonanza (no, not really). The BBJ was impressive with its lavish interior, large flat screen TVs and a tail-mounted forward-facing video camera giving passengers a flight deck-view of the world ahead. I understand the aircraft is for sale. If you purchase it, but are not a Miami Dolphins fan, you will need to remove the team’s logo from the vertical stabilizer.
One has to marvel at the enormous amount of wealth and discretionary income it takes to keep even a small private jet in the air.
We also got a chance to see the new mock-up of the new Lear 85 panel. It’s all business and very impressive.
The HondaJet, with its wing-mounted engine pylons, attracted a lot of attention as well. The wing-mounted engine is a fairly radical design concept.
Not surprisingly, there were no avgas-burning piston aircraft on the ramp, other than Beech. Also, very few turbo-props, considered the workhorse of the business aviation set, were evident. This was the NBAA, after all.
Beechcraft exhibited the new piston-engined G-36 Bonanza and G-58 Baron on the ramp. But with prices on the north and south sides of a million dollars, they still seemed tiny and insignificant, parked in the shadows of the heavy iron that surrounded them.
One of my favorite vintage aircraft on display was a beautifully restored 1930’s-designed Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing. The sleek Staggerwing design represents the very genesis of business aviation, and was brought to market during the Great Depression. Designed in 1933, the biplane cost a staggering (no pun) $14,000 to $17,000, during a time when 25% of the workforce was unemployed. Only 785 were ever built, and production ended in 1949.
All of this reminds me of the old quip that “if God wanted man to fly, he would have given him more money”.