In what would turn out to be one of his last appearances as boss of Cessna Aircraft, Jack Pelton gave a roomful of aviation policy leaders a Paul Revere-like warning last month: the Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming. Textron Inc, Cessna’s parent company, announced on May 2 Pelton’s retirement from Cessna, which becomes effective on June 1.
Almost since the day he was named Cessna CEO in 2003, Pelton’s face began popping up as a spokesman for general aviation, both in public forums and hearings on Capitol Hill. And he was the lone voice of general aviation on the Department of Transportation’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee last year.
At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 10th annual Aviation Summit in Washington on April 27, Pelton continued to be a strong advocate for general aviation. And when former FAA Administrator Allan McArtor brought up the potential for general aviation growth in China, Pelton warned that the Chinese are either going to replicate the GA aircraft that the U.S. is exporting and “put us out of business, or we are going to have to get there first.”
Predicting tremendous growth in worldwide general aviation over the next 10 years, Pelton stressed that the industry needs a seat at the table when discussing the future of air travel. He also called for research and development tax credits and relaxation of trade barriers. “I think we can’t go fast enough,” he told the aviation summit. “We have to knock down some of those trade barriers.”
Pelton also reflected on the March rally of more than 2,000 general aviation workers at Cessna in Wichita, where DOT Secretary Ray LaHood lauded the importance of general aviation manufacturing to the state of Kansas and the U.S. industrial base. He promised that President Obama would visit the self-proclaimed “air capital of the world” next year.
Despite that visit and promise by LaHood, Pelton said that the President “has yet to talk about the aviation industry. Barack Obama needs to embrace that now.”