Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

In early 2007 (doesn’t that seem like forever ago?), I recall attending a conference where a leader in the business jet MRO sector was raving about the boom times. In that time period, the business aviation market was truly booming with multiple multi-aircraft orders at all the shows and backlogs at the business jet OEMs that made it seem impossible to get a slot for an aircraft order in anything close to a timely manner.

This gentleman had been in the business for at least 30 years — likely more. He was considered an expert — a trusted leader and was well-liked and respected. He was sitting on a panel at the conference where he was asked about the potential for the next few years and whether he saw a slowdown coming or more good times. The question was phrased, “When do you predict the boom will end?” The hubris of his answer has stayed with me all these years. He replied, “I don’t see it ending. Ever.” He wasn’t alone. The entire panel — all big name leaders in the business — agreed.

I’m not here to dis that guy or the panel, but even then, I remember thinking, doesn’t he remember the economic recession of the early 80s? Or the hard times of the early 1990s? Or what about the rough patch right after 9-11 exacerbated by the dot com bubble bursting? Those quickly popped to mind and made me recall layoffs and furloughs and green tails stacked up on the ramp – oh my!

Shortly thereafter, towards the end of 2007, the real estate bubble burst. Then, the car manufacturers started suffering hard times and several of them flew into Washington, D. C. in their company business jets to ask Congress for financial assistance in keeping their factories afloat. This act of using business jets to beg for money was seized upon as the ultimate disconnect between those executives and the reality of the impact of the economic downturn on the average person during the Great Recession. Consequently, many business jet operators were shamed into selling or underutilizing their jets and cancelling jet orders.

Just a few months later, by early 2008, that overly optimistic guy I mentioned above, who didn’t see an end to the boom times, was offered early retirement from his very high visibility position at a leading business jet manufacturer and we haven’t heard from him since. Such an incredible domino effect of events, in hindsight.

A year and a half ago, who could have predicted what was to come in 2020 and beyond? Truly no one, which is one of the reasons industry forecasts and overly optimistic experts bother me. I can see why they are necessary but, aside from putting in a statement to the effect, “Pending any ‘black swan” events…” no one could have foreseen a pandemic that would nearly cripple the industry negating any forecast published in the 2018-2019 time frame.

In case you don’t know, a black swan event is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, severe impact and some would even say they were obvious in hindsight. Truly, this pandemic is a black swan.

On the spectrum of optimism and pessimism, I like to think of myself as right in the middle, a realist. I’ve been around long enough to see the cyclical nature of the aviation industry. The ups and downs make it like a thrill ride and whenever I see the boom days I think back to those downturns and wonder how businesses are preparing for that inevitability.

In any case, I am now asking the question, “Are we out of the woods, yet?” with regards to the pandemic and my realism is telling me not quite yet. What do you think?

To that end, in this issue we have some great stories that take a look at various segments of our industry and what is happening now. For example, large engine operators were impacted more severely than operators of small engines so we wanted to see how MROs responded to that situation. See the story on widebody engine MRO starting on page 14.

Next, we are surely seeing some light at the end of this very long tunnel of the pandemic. Many aircraft were sent to storage in the Arizona desert (and other places around the globe) to ride out the slowdown in airline operations. Now that COVID cases are decreasing, vaccinations are preventing the spread and pent up demand for travel is reaching new heights, we are seeing those aircraft being returned to service, especially for the busy summer travel season. What does it take to pull a mothballed aircraft out of the desert and put it back in the operational rotation? Great info on this process in our story about returning aircraft to service starts on page 28.

We also wanted to check out the latest in connectivity options for business jets. With Zoom calls de rigueur and the desire for rapid internet across the board, what offerings exist to help? We checked in with leaders in connectivity solutions for business jets, to see. That story starts on page 36.

Finally, in our ongoing series, On Guard, written by safety expert Jeff Guzzetti, he takes a look at some lessons learned prior to COVID for Post-COVID Returns to Service. The piece examines a B767 fuel leak and fire and how the lessons learned from that event can help now. Read it on page 42.

I’m excited about the light I’m seeing in the tunnel and I’m ready to get back in the air. But the realist in me thinks — as the old joke goes — hopefully it’s not another train.

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