From flying fighter jets over Vietnam to operating Gulfstream Aerospace, to overseeing the world's largest fractional provider, NetJets, Bill Boisture has probably heard and seen it all in his decades-long career in aviation. Newly appointed as chairman and chief executive of Hawker Beechcraft on 23 March, Boisture gives Flight Evening News a look into his plans going forward for the company, which is producing 11 different models in the Hawker and Beechcraft line as well as military and special mission aircraft. He also reveals the source of some good-natured ribbing between himself and some other Hawker Beechcraft executives.
What are your immediate, intermediate and long-term plans for Hawker Beechcraft?
I've only been here a little over 30 days, so I'm still in the process of formulating plans. The most immediate imperative is to right-size the business for the current economic outlook and to maintain the core competencies needed to emerge a stronger aircraft company after right-sizing. At the same time we have to continue to deliver high-quality new products daily out of factories and assembly lines and maintain a strong focus on the service for existing customers that we render through Hawker Beechcraft service centres.
In the intermediate, we have to maintain what has been put in place already, a product line strategy, started by my predecessor, for the evolutionary improvement of existing type designs.
© Hawker Beechcraft
Longer-term plans? We'll enhance the value of the enterprise to have it strategically placed in future. We're fortunate to have investors who are long-term experienced aerospace investors - they understand the cycles and creating value.
That's how I'm looking at it 30 days into it.
Given your experience with unifying the Gulfstream product line, is there similar work to be done at Hawker Beechcraft?
We have a similar but significantly different opportunity here in that our product line spans a much broader set of price points and we have many price performance points that represent value to our customers. We've got work to do in terms of continuing to invest in evolutionary development of those products.
What is the status of the Hawker 4000 programme?
I think that we will continue on a course to bring it to market and to provide a very sound value at that price and performance point. I think the challenges that have represented by a long and very difficult certification tend to mask a very capable aircraft that will delight owners. Now what we have final certification and are clearing some of the early programme issues, we're going to have a very fine aircraft in the 4000. I'm very optimistic about its future. Many of the hurdles that had to be overcome had to do with bringing in the first composite fuselage on this size jet. We'll work hard over the next couple of years to make sure it realises its full potential.
On the other end of the spectrum, we are moving the new Hawker 450XP program forward though we may have to alter plans based on current economy. It does have a place in product line however. But like everyone else, we have to evaluate this economy for schedules and timing.
How do you view the current downturn and potential opportunities to emerge a stronger company on the other side?
I have the same view of current downturn as most of my peers. We are all familiar with the cycles with aerospace and business aviation, but none of us in our working lifetime have experienced such a severe or abrupt onset and lack of visibility as to what will represent the signals for an upturn. However I'm fundamentally optimistic about underlying reasons why people buy and use business aircraft, and I don't think they're going to change. The airline service in the USA and internationally is not going to improve, and it is not a valid back-up transport solution for us. I fundamentally disagree with people who see airlines as an alternative to business aircraft, the most efficient means of travel for people who have geographically dispersed businesses or opportunities.
Recovery could mean a return to liquidity, credit markets in balance and the proper political climate with respect to ownership of business aircraft, but I can't define the "other side" at this point.
Given the admittedly cyclic nature of the industry, are there tactics that might be used in the "good times" to better mitigate the inevitable downturns and layoffs that have occurred at Hawker Beechcraft and elsewhere?
Each time we go through one of these downturns we learn things about how to position our business better with respect to core competencies and capital investments. We look for physical plants that have more flexibility and maybe alternative uses. I think that other than that, we make investments on the basis that this is a cyclical industry and always has been - it moves with respect to the general economy. We'll be leaner and more focused coming out of this, as will all of our competitors.
There's a tremendous understanding among our skilled workforce of the cycles of this industry. In some cases they've seen their parents or grandparents go through [layoffs]. They tend to come back to a great degree and we'll be very anxious to have them do so. I was talking to some fellas the first week I was here in an outlying plant in Kansas. They had received a layoff notice and knew they were in their last week. They asked me when I might know when I could call them back. I said, "I really can't tell you that." To which two of the men said: "We'd rather have an answer like you just gave rather than you telling us 90 or 120 days and not meaning it. Do what's necessary to keep the company healthy and we'll be ready to come back."
© Hawker Beechcraft
Do you continue to fly yourself?
Yes, in fact I had the opportunity to fly the Hawker 4000 for the first time on 29 April, thanks to senior demonstration captain Errol Wuertz and our vice-president of flight operations, Bob Blouin. I found the aircraft to be very well designed from pilot's point of view. It handles excellently. The integration of systems in the cockpit is exceptional and it has tremendous field and climb performance. We had flown the aircraft to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio to discuss the T-6A military trainer programme. After we came back, we let the other people who were travelling with us off the airplane and we went out and made a few circuits around Beech Field and out to the east.
Other than that, I've been flying the Cirrus SR22 GT that I bought in August 2006 quite a bit, logging 525h in the past 30 months. Though I thoroughly enjoyed flying the Cirrus for business all over the country, Brad Hatt [Hawker Beechcraft commercial aircraft president] and his team have placed me under severe pressure (laughs). I look forward to making the appropriate trade.