Light at the end of the tunnel

SPLOG By DAN JOHNSON

Saying 2009 was a breathtaking year is no overstatement. The last air show of the season is now history and reflections on 2009 reveal a year of hardship for aviation. Cessna laid off more than half its workers and the Wichita giant’s problems are mirrored throughout general aviation. Seemingly invulnerable jet builders took a vicious tumble, losing many talented workers to layoffs. Business shows like NBAA had lots of empty spaces.

Yet in all this darkness, some are seeing daylight. Cessna boss Jack Pelton has been preaching recovery and he is echoed by other general aviation leaders.

For the Light Sport industry, 2009 also has been bad, but less bad. Sales are off about 25% (compared to general aviation’s nearly 50%). After a surprisingly sluggish fall for many producers, business seems to be perking up slightly. Sales of LSA to established flight schools remains the industry’s best performance to date, even in — or perhaps because of — a down economy.

Planning is already underway for 2010 events. For most LSA manufacturers, shows remain the primary marketing vehicles. Coming soon is the sixth annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo (often referred to as the Sebring LSA Expo), slated for Jan. 21-24.

Sebring Expo Chairman Bob Wood says exhibitors and sponsors are up over last year. And, remember, in the depths of economic gloom last January, the Sebring LSA Expo set record attendance, even outdrawing AOPA’s Expo. Many hope Sebring will help kick off a vastly improved 2010.

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