He did as much as anyone in the nation’s capital to change aviation manufacturing in this country and saw his efforts come to fruition on Aug. 17, 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed into law product liability reform that reduced the liability that is faced by aviation manufacturers. Meyers still counts the passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act as his greatest accomplishment. It established an 18-year statute of repose for GA manufacturers involved in product liability litigation, and more importantly, breathing new life into the single-engine airplane market as manufacturers emerged from under the burden of product liability insurance.
A native of Davenport, Iowa, Russell W. Meyer Jr. graduated from Yale University with his BA in 1952, and received his doctorate in law from Harvard Law School in 1961. He served with the U.S. Air Force, and then as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves until 1961. He began his career as a trial lawyer specializing in aviation, until 1966, when he became president and CEO of Grumman American Aviation Corporation.
He started his tenure at Cessna in June 1974, and was named chairman and CEO a year later. From that time until his retirement in 2003, he built the company into a highly respected manufacturer while at the same time taking a remarkable leadership role in the GA industry. At a time when returning to the light aircraft market was considered risky, he followed through on his commitment and Cessna returned to production of its popular aircraft.
Appointed by President Reagan to the Aviation Safety Commission in 1987, he worked tirelessly to reform the country’s aviation laws. He was elected to a third term as chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in 1994 and was the only representative of the business aviation community to serve on President Clinton’s Airline Commission.
His efforts to gain passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act, including visiting members of Congress and contacting thousands of their constituents, were crucial to the development and passage of the legislation. The result: the reemergence of the single-engine aircraft industry and the construction of a new Independence, Kansas plant by Cessna.
An avid pilot with more than 15,000 hours of flight time, he’s type rated in all models of the Cessna Citation and regularly flies as pilot in command in a Citation X. In 1995, he received the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the National Aeronautics Association’s most prestigious honor, as well as the Award for Meritorious Service to Aviation from the National Business Aviation Association.
Meyer maintains his greatest joy at Cessna was “keeping a really good team together.” He also never forgot the people of Kansas, putting resources into a comprehensive academic, personal and vocational skills training program for Wichita’s inner-city residents that guarantees jobs to those who complete the program.