Founder and President, Groom Aviation
Former President, Beechcraft
Former Executive Vice President, Piper Aircraft
Vero Beach, FL
Single/Multi Land & Sea
King Air 300/350/1900 Type Rating
1. Throughout your career, you’ve had a front-row seat to many of general aviation’s dramatic changes, consolidations and significant downturns over the last three decades. What key factors need to remain constant to ensure GA will thrive into the next decade?
I think the most important factor for General Aviation to return to growth is to attract more young people to flying. As an industry, we need to be planting seeds with kids of all ages that potentially could inspire them to consider aviation as a career or hobby. Programs such as Young Eagles are great, but more youth outreach needs to be done. Invite kids to the airport, to FBO’s, give presentations at elementary schools, high schools and universities. Our survival depends on it.
2. Because GA is a small industry (with a relatively small number of new aircraft units built and sold every year), the barriers to innovation and profitability can be daunting. What are some of the most promising and exciting technologies or advancements you’re seeing on the horizon that have the potential to have a significant impact on aviation?
I have always felt that advances in powerplants are key to igniting growth in our industry. I am excited to see efforts continue to improve efficiency of turbine/turboprop engines. Diesel still holds some promise and of course the incredible focus on electric and hybrid is fascinating to watch. Also, advances in safety systems, primarily in the avionics world are moving at a breathtaking pace. I don’t think we are far from seeing general aviation airplanes with an auto land capability that could eliminate issues from pilot incapacitation.
3. Many in this industry owe you a debt of gratitude for providing mentorship and a leg up in their careers. Who do you consider your heroes that helped you become a successful businessman and industry leader?
Wow, I have lots of heroes, but I would have to start with Olive Ann Beech. I never reported to her, but her presence and principles permeated the culture of Beech Aircraft. I learned that a relentless focus on quality and extraordinary customer support were critical to business success. I would also have to recognize George Rodgers, former VP of Marketing at Beech for making a conscious effort to attract young people to the company; without which I wouldn’t have had my start. And Rob Wells (former Vice President of Sales at Piedmont Aviation, now CEO at Quest Aircraft) deserves a shout out for recruiting me and thinking I had what it takes to sell airplanes. He didn’t know my only sales experience was a total failure selling greeting cards as a kid.
4. What are your thoughts regarding the dramatic increase in costs affiliated with flight training and aircraft ownership as compared to the beginning of your career?
Years ago, I remember stopping in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and being horrified that their fuel price for 80 octane was 50 cents per gallon. I told my brother to never stop there because of that and he reminds me to this day to steer clear of Muscle Shoals. So certainly, fuel prices are an enormous contributor to the increase in operating costs. I think advances in powerplant technology can help us on that front. Product liability is another big one that affects everyone from the smallest aerospace suppliers up to the airframe OEM’s. It would help if the insurance industry wouldn’t be so quick to settle on frivolous cases as opposed to making the effort to fight them out in court.
5. Can you describe one of the most unusual airports you have ever landed a general aviation aircraft?
I would have to say the Shut–tle Landing Facility (KTTS). Recently, our local aviation club was able to get special permission to land on the Space Shuttle strip. I couldn’t pass up this incredible opportunity, so a few buddies and I loaded up in my A36 and made the short trip up from Vero Beach. The joke was that it was going to require great skill and heavy braking for me to safely land on the 15,000 foot runway. But we made it without a hitch, and it was such a thrill to be touching down on the same strip that welcomed home so many of our
astronaut heroes. •T&T