ATLANTA - Sales of corporate jets are growing so fast that aircraft manufacturers are expanding and some experts worry there could be a shortage of pilots one day.
For example, Gulfstream Aerospace is completing the first phase of its seven-year, $ 400-million expansion of its Savannah research and assembly plant next to the company headquarters.
The challenge would be finding 1,000 qualified workers, Gulfstream President Joe Lombardo told reporters Monday at the National Business Aviation Association.
Cessna Aircraft Co. broke ground last week on a -million expansion of its sub-assembly plant in Columbus, Ga.
On Monday, President Jack Pelton told reporters that a plant the company built in Mexico last year won´t be the last foreign factory for Cessna, which is based in Wichita, Kan. When asked where the company would assemble its new SkyCatcher model, he offered no details beyond saying he would make an announcement in November.
"We´re starting to run out of resources in Wichita," he said.
The small, propeller-driven SkyCatcher was just introduced in March, and already 850 customers have placed orders. While it´s too small and slow to be considered an option for most business-aviation flyers, the 0,000 plane is important to the long-term health of the corporate-jet industry, Pelton said, because it can help meet the growing demand for commercial pilots at a time when gaining flight time has been prohibitively expensive for many people.
"It´s a strategic investment we are making to bring more people into the bottom," he said. "We´ve found a way to reduce the entry level, and it´s going to do great things for the industry."
Great things are already affecting the industry today.
Most U.S. manufacturers report steady growth in domestic sales but rapidly mounting orders from overseas.
Hawker Beechcraft disclosed strong sales of its turbine aircraft in developing countries like India, Russia and those in Latin America and the Middle East. The Wichita-based company announced in January that the National Air Services in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, ordered 20 Hawker 750s worth 0 million, the region´s largest order ever.
"There is a tremendous amount of private investment in the region, and it is ripe for sustained economic growth," said Brad Hatt, president of Hawker Beechcraft Commercial Sales.
Sales to foreigners surpassed those for domestic orders for the first time this year at Hawker Beechcraft and Gulfstream.
Lombardo credits, bigger security hassles at commercial airports, the weakened dollar and growing personal wealth, especially in Europe. Gulfstream has seen more of its international sales in Europe where it´s high-end planes serve continent-hopping executives.
"We´re very encouraged about what´s going on, especially outside of the United States," he said.
Cessna´s Pelton notes that the removal of borders between European countries made air travel simpler.
"We´re seeing shifts in the market from where it´s traditionally been," he said.
Gulfstream is showcasing technical advancements during the Atlanta trade show, such as computer-generated images of the ground to help pilots flying in the dark or bad weather.
Another feature is a system it calls PlaneConnect which constantly monitors a plane´s operations from the company´s Savannah headquarters. If there is a mechanical glitch during a flight, the company will dispatch parts or mechanics from its various operations around the globe, and will meet the plane to carry out the repairs.
"Why do we do it?" asked Larry Flynn, Gulfstream´s service head. "We think service sells new airplanes."
Cessna, on the other hand, is highlighting several models, including its Mustang, a smaller, less-expensive jet. The company calls it an "entry level jet" because it hopes customers will one day outgrow it and look to a bigger Cessna.
Hawker Beechcraft´s focus for the trade show is the upgrades it offers for its models, such as those that improve fuel efficiency and performance in range and high-altitudes.
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