Economic Recovery Challenged at Sun 'n Fun, and Passes the Test

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The general aviation world was anxiously watching this year's kickoff event. The annual Sun 'n Fun fly-in opened last week and the results are mostly good for airplane aficionados. With the economy fighting its way back to its feet, and general aviation in the crosshairs of public opinion, we were holding our collective breath. Though no official attendance figures have been released as yet, observers reported light foot traffic early in the show (attributed to bad weather early), with steady increases during the week. Preliminary reports from Sun 'n Fun President John Burton indicate that revenues were down a nominal 10 percent, thanks, in large part, to new parking fees. In view of their worst fears, Sun 'n Fun exhibitors collectively responded very positively-perhaps in a mixture of genuine enthusiasm and relief that their fears were unrealized. Cessna's Southeast sales rep called it "…the best Sun 'n Fun show I have ever experienced," saying he sold three aircraft. Piper reported multiple Meridian sales, including one to a walk-up customer. Embraer representatives said they met with several position holders for their Phenom 100 and 300-and several new prospects. Cirrus also indicated it was pleased with the show, and the word was that sales for April were up substantially. Other airframers and component manufacturers also spoke positively, including Aspen, Aviat, Daher-Socata, Diamond, Garmin, Hawker Beechcraft, Pilatus and Remos. If the uptick trend continues, glass-half-full analysts say, it could be that general aviation has seen the worst and is on the path to recovery.