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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedTextron chairman high on Oshkosh
By J. Mac McClellan

J. Mac McClellan

Scott Donnelly was named chairman, in addition to being president and CEO, of Textron this week and then headed for Oshkosh to check out how two of his important companies, Cessna and Lycoming, are doing.

He is working-but being here is not the toughest duty on Scott's schedule.

You see, Scott is a pilot and airplane owner.

As you would expect, he flies a Cessna, a turbo 206 piston single. With three kids, wife, and dog, the 206 can't quite handle the load of some trips so it will soon be replaced by a Caravan turboprop single.

Owner-pilots are the fastest growing category of new Caravan owners and all for the same reason-the big single can carry everything you can haul to the airport and more, do it with turbine reliability, long range if you want it, and decent speed.

Donnelly had missed the past two Oshkosh AirVentures because of schedule conflicts, but had attended the show several times before that. He has been a pilot for more than five years and has instrument and multi-engine ratings.

Scott earned his multi a few months ago and was startled by the dramatic differences between his Garmin G1000 equipped Cessna 206 and the well-worn Piper Seminole trainer.

Forget a flat glass primary flight display (PFD), the Seminole didn't even have a basic GPS navigator.

He had to complete the IFR portion of his multi-training and checkride with nothing but "steam gauge" instruments and basic VOR/ILS for navigation.

"I learned how great the situational awareness is with the G1000 when I didn't have it," he said. "Taking a step back showed me how big a step forward current avionics are," he added.

Donnelly believes Cessna and Lycoming's business is at the bottom of the economic cycle and sees a slow recovery over the next few years.

Everyone is aware of the economic crunch that hit in fall 2008 and took general aviation down with it, but what Scott believes made this recession worse than normal for business aviation was the political attacks on business aviation, and business jets in particular.

He finds it impossible to understand why politicians would want to harm an industry that dominates the global market and can add so much productivity to any business.

"I was at a board meeting in Providence on Thursday morning, had a meeting at the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, and still arrived here in Oshkosh in time to attend the Gathering of Eagles dinner in the evening.

"That would have been impossible without a business jet.

"If I had to do that on the airlines I would have been forced to pick just one event for the day. With a Citation X, I could do all three," Donnelly said.

"In business we pay people to work, not sit in an airline terminal. Business airplanes get people to where they need to be to do their jobs.

"I enjoy flying, but the business of the trip is what is important. And any kind of airplane can be a business airplane. It can be a 206, or a Skylane, Baron or Bonanza or anything else that saves time on business travel. It doesn't need to be a jet to be effective on every business mission," he added.

Donnelly told me that Textron continues to invest in Cessna and Lycoming. Several Cessna models will be "refreshed" and at least a couple of all-new clean sheet designs are in the works. Scott clearly understands that if new airplanes are going to be ready for delivery when the economy recovers the investment needs to be made now.

His only real fear for the future is that business aviation could again become politicized during the elections and that could delay recovery and do great harm to one of the most important industries in the United States.

He also supports continuing a full line of Cessna airplanes from light singles to business jets as a strategy to train new pilots and move them up the product line.

In fact, Donnelly expects similar product line developments over the coming years internationally, particularly in China and India.

"China and India have much in common with the United States geographically. Business is concentrated in regions and the distances between major regional business centers are about the same as in the United States. Just as business people need to travel frequently between major cities here, they will need to do the same over there," he said.

Of course China and India lack the aviation infrastructure and access to airspace that we enjoy here, but that is changing quickly, and Donnelly wants Cessna to be positioned to have a wide range of business airplanes to take advantage of that growth.

Scott said business was picking up for Lycoming with more overhauls and factory rebuilts on order, as well as growth in spare parts sales. Lycoming continues to work on advanced engines with automated control of mixture and rpm to increase efficiency while cutting pilot workload.

Donnelly has been thoroughly briefed on the leaded avgas situation and along with all others who are deeply involved cautions against over reaction to any potential ban on lead in fuel.

"There is no need to panic. Developing a replacement for 100LL is a process and we don't want to jump to any quick conclusions or to box ourselves in with unnecessary limitations.

"There will be a continuous supply of avgas as the industry solves the issues of leaded fuel," he said.

What Donnelly really enjoys about Oshkosh is being surrounded by pilots and aviation enthusiasts of all stripes.

And the same can be said for Jack Pelton who is chairman, President and CEO of Cessna. Both of these guys own airplanes, love to fly, and that's great news for those of us who share that passion.

But they are also experienced business professionals who need to make the hard-nosed decisions that will make Textron's aviation businesses grow.

I'm optimistic that they will succeed.

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