If you have worked in the amusement industry for several decades, how do you stay fresh, on your game, ahead of change? If you're Peter Schnabel, you innovate.
Wherever he's worked, Schnabel has continuously been at the forefront of innovation in the attractions business. He has sold and managed the development of virtually every type of ride for amusement parks — often being the first to see into the future, conceiving new designs and manufacturing processes.
When Schnabel first came to the U.S. to launch Intamin USA, for instance, he was part of the Intamin team that convinced Magic Mountain, then an independent park, to install the company’s new looping roller coaster. Revolution opened at Magic Mountain in 1976. The coaster utilised a clothoid – or teardrop – design rather than using a circular loop and became an industry phenomenon, bringing in extra visitors and substantial ongoing revenue. Many parks hastened to build coasters with the new design.
Schnabel’s next success story came when he sold Astroworld the first River Rapids Ride, voted the “Best Family Attraction” that year by the industry. He eventually brought Intamin dozens of contracts for that new innovation in ride experience.
In addition to selling concepts generated by Intamin, where he was part of the team creating new attractions, Schnabel brought his own ideas for rides to the table. In 1979, he conceived the idea for American Eagle, the longest double Racing Wooden Roller Coaster in the world, which he sold to Marriott for their Great America park. Schnabel explains:
“I wanted to be the one who created the fastest and longest wooden racing coaster. It just was a personal goal for me.”
Many of Schnabel’s ideas for innovation over his career have their origin in the aircraft industry. Early in his career, Schnabel had worked for Messerschmitt, part of Airbus. What he learned about propulsion systems for aircraft and other motorised applications would later come in handy when, in 1994, Schnabel founded his own attraction company, Premier Rides.
One of the first attraction offerings from Premier Rides was based on a new idea for roller coasters – to use a Linear Induction Motor (LIM) propulsion system that had originally been developed for transit systems.
The first two LIM roller coasters for the amusement industry were installed a year later in Kings Island and Kings Dominion.
Flight of Fear – Again, he had a ride that was a winner.
Flight of Fear won three awards from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, including one for Major Theme/Amusement Park Ride/Attraction and two for Technology Applied to Amusements.
Just as momentum was building for Premier Rides, Schnabel was diagnosed with vocal cord cancer. After some consideration, he decided to sell the company to his employees.
“I stayed on, continuing to work as a consultant. I wanted Premier to become very successful, ” he explains.
After lengthy radiation treatment, Schnabel was finally given the all-clear.
About that time, in 2011, Dynamic Structures approached Schnabel to create its own attraction brand, Dynamic Attractions. In just three years as President, he introduced 10 products and sold Media Based Attractions for installations in China, France, Macao, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Malaysia, France and Korea, as well as the U.S.
Schnabel also sold the revolutionary Harry Potter attraction to Universal Studios Hollywood, USA and Universal Studios Osaka, Japan.
CAVU and Building a Team
Leaving Dynamic in December 2014, Schnabel took some time to develop the strategy for his new company, one that could be a global media-based attraction provider. He showcased his new company at the AAE in Hong Kong last month.
“I’ve built a very capable team, bringing together people who have worked with me in the past as well as adding new personnel and skills, ” comments Schnabel. “Together we are launching a new media-based attractions company, using some of the operational changes I’ve thought about for years.”
Schnabel again drew on his aircraft background when he decided to name his new company CAVU, which is an aviation term meaning, “Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited.” It’s used when the day offers perfect flying weather – an unlimited, cloudless blue sky.
“We look at CAVU as offering unlimited possibilities, unclouded vision and a blue sky approach to solving amusement industry problems.”
One of the innovations will be CAVU’s business model. The company will build all its rides in China, at Chinese manufacturing facilities with oversight and quality control by North American engineers.
“China is the manufacturing hub for the finest and most sophisticated tech products on the planet. Almost everyone, today, depends on something made in China – starting with their smart phone, ” Schnabel points out.
Choosing to fabricate in China reflects Schnabel’s ability to see into the future.
CAVU rides all have a totally new, streamlined design and will be fabricated in cutting edge manufacturing facilities. Schnabel is focused on building efficient rides offering high customer value.
“We’re passionate about creating creative, ultra-safe world class attractions at the lowest cost possible for our clients, ” he says. “We’ve used our years of experience to develop better, smarter and more efficient engineering approaches to the design and fabrication process.
Schnabel still insists on an uncompromising approach to attraction development. CAVU rides will use European and American components, and be certified by CSEI for Chinese installations and TÜV for global installations.
And, CAVU will be customer service oriented, a trait Schnabel is also known for.
Right out of the saddle, CAVU will offer an impressive number of Theatres and Dark Rides. At the IAAPA Asia Attractions Expo in Hong Kong, CAVU showcased three Theatres:
- FreeFlight™ (Flying Theatre)
- Midnight Express™ (Touring Simulator Shuttle)
- Midnight Excursion™ (Mobile, Open Topped Shuttle)
And, three Dark Rides:
- Storm Chaser™ (Multi-Axis Dark Ride)
- Road Racer™ (Action Dark Ride)
- Twist ‘N Shoot ™ (Interactive Gaming Ride)
Joining him in his new venture are Daryl White, President, and Tao Huai, President, Asia, as well as Harold Hudson, Senior Advisor. All three have worked with Schnabel for years.
White is responsible for operations, including oversight of the design, development and execution of all attraction engineering systems.
“I’ve worked with Peter for quite a few years and share his vision for a new type of attractions company, able to produce the high quality Media Based Attractions that the industry is clamouring for but at a more realistic budget, ” says White. “We’ve now found the solution.”
Tao Huai, President of CAVU Asia, is responsible for relationships with CAVU manufacturers and will handle business development in Asia. Tao is well-known throughout the industry and is regarded as probably the single most knowledgeable person when it comes to Media Based Attractions in the Chinese, Malaysian and greater Asian market. CAVU will also have several other Asian employees. Several of its initial contracts will be for Media Based Attractions in Asia.
“We think it’s extremely important to have a key member of the team based in China, ” explains Schnabel. "It’s an extremely important part of the world for amusement park business today, and a region where a lot of attraction innovation can happen.”
Hudson, Senior Advisor, is one of the strongest engineering minds in the business. Before joining Schnabel in various roles in the last decade, Hudson spent 21 years as Executive VP of Engineering and Development for Six Flags theme parks. He was one of the founding members of the ASTM F24 committee, from which almost all of the world’s amusement industry safety standards have grown.
Even with a few decades under his belt, Schnabel remains enthusiastic about the industry.
“Media Based Attractions are changing the industry.”
“Today we can produce attractions that not only engage but amaze park guests, " he says.
Schnabel has in his wake a stream of successes, each wave taking on the challenges of the day and meeting them with a solution not seen before. CAVU Designwerks and his handpicked, new team are out to prove they can create his best success yet.
According to White: “We’re going to bring attractions once reserved only for the elite to the masses.”
"But, the trick is to provide smart, superbly designed Media Based Attractions that deliver a return on investment to the park developer, " adds Schnabel. "And, that is where CAVU will come in.”