NBAA mini-show lands at DuPage

 - July 24, 2007, 8:08 AM

Billing the event as a mini version of its annual show, NBAA brought 73 vendors to DuPage Airport on June 24 to present to Chicagoland a range of business aircraft and a host of service vendors and forums. More than 1,100 people attended to walk through and ogle the 31 aircraft on static display at the airport, which is located 25 miles west of downtown Chicago. Somewhat ironically, Boeing did not participate in the show, despite the fact that the company’s new headquarters is also in downtown Chicago. (Airbus also did not show an ACJ.)

Despite an early-afternoon downpour that threatened to put a damper on the proceedings and exposed some of the logistical difficulties of holding an event in locations more than a short sprint from each other on an airport, the association viewed the event a success. Overall, the results of a quick AIN survey of a dozen vendors showed that most believed the show was something they needed to be a part of, although most were unsure of the actual return on their investment for attending the event.

“The final attendance number at DuPage was 1,149, the largest number ever at an NBAA regional forum,” said Bob Blouin, NBAA’s senior vice president of operations. AIN questioned Blouin about the possibility that the regional shows– also held in West Palm Beach, Fla., Seattle and Dallas–might be drawing visitors from the association’s annual show in Las Vegas this fall. “Not really,” he said, “at least not right now.” Visitors to the DuPage event came from as far away as California.

“This crowd tells me there is a definite ‘need’ on the part of our community to network on a regional basis, highlight and discuss key issues and be able to view the latest in OEM and service provider offerings,” Blouin added. The event was also an opportunity to showcase the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association (CABAA), as well as meet and greet local politicians such as the mayor of West Chicago.

Suzanne Cole, NBAA’s senior manager of regional forums and static displays, said, “Many people fly in for just this one-day event, both commercially and privately, which is exactly why these one-day events are so popular. A one-day commitment is something executives can easily make time for.”

The day’s forums looked at a variety of business aviation topics, including operational security, runway incursions, DRVSM, electronic charting, the value of a corporate shuttle, a session on avoiding the pitfalls of aircraft refurbishment, and the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO).

While developing topics for an all-day session like a regional forum is certainly a challenge, some attendees believed that a minor criticism of the event related to their often being forced to choose between a variety of interesting topics that began and ended at overlapping times. This meant catching only the first hour of one forum before finding it necessary to leave for the beginning of the next.

An early forum looked at the evergreen topic of operational security, as well as whether or not business aircraft will ever again be allowed to use Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). In one of the more conscious attempts to look at the security issue from a common-sense perspective, Blouin said, “There was a huge rush to do something [about security] after 9/11, and quite honestly most of it has been foolish.” He also pointed to the uncoordinated efforts between the United States’ Registered Traveler Program, which fingerprints visitors, while Canada’s system uses retinal scans.

For general aviation, there is no required security mandate from the TSA, at least not yet. “But the TSA is aggressively learning about general aviation,” Blouin said. He believes a sensible goal for business aviation should be to “identify operators who have security as good as or better than the airlines,” and moved on to a discussion of possible expansion of the existing TSA Access Certificate (TSAAC) program.

Should there be another terrorist attack, Blouin said business aviation must be ready. “TSAAC identifies Part 91 operators who are security qualified.” But he also expressed the angst of some of the operators who have looked into becoming TSAAC qualified: “If all it does is get you past the TSA waiver office for an international flight, what’s the point?” Blouin believes that in the event of another attack, TSAAC could be what gets business aviation back in the sky quickly, or to find a way into and out of the web of last-minute TFRs that pop up around the country like mushrooms after a spring rain. And this time, “If the airlines get back in the air [after an attack], so should general aviation.”

Despite efforts by NBAA at the highest levels of government, access to DCA has not yet happened, although many believe it will occur. The most likely trigger to get GA back into DCA will be the defeat of President Bush, who clearly does not trust this segment of aviation, in November. Blouin said, “Senator John Kerry has made it clear that he can see no reason why general aviation should not be allowed access to DCA.” Blouin cautioned listeners that NBAA is not willing to accept DCA access at any price the TSA might name, however. “That could set a precedent we might not like.”

Another interesting forum was the International Business Aviation Council’s International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations hosted by Ray Rohr, the group’s standards manager, who highlighted a growing trend within corporate aviation to adopt this relatively new industry code of practice. IS-BAO is a process-oriented evaluation that can be adapted to flight departments of any size.

Rohr emphasized that IS-BAO is not a burden on flight departments, but rather “a tool for maximum utilization of a business aircraft.” It includes a system to develop company operations manuals, address occupational health and safety concerns and produce a set of standard operating procedures that would include flight- and duty-time limitations. Compliance once a flight department qualifies for IS-BAO is accomplished with biennial audits.

Simply developing a new process does not necessarily mean people will smoothly integrate into that process, however. One wonders whether IS-BAO might conflict at some point with the people aspects of NBAA’s Certified Aviation Manager [CAM] program, a system devoted to producing qualified flight department managers. Rohr doesn’t believe that to be the case and said the IS-BAO flight department audit also integrates the human factors issues into the certification process.

Efforts at NBAA to maintain high standards for the regional forums always revolve around the feedback Blouin said the organization solicits on many levels. “We hear from the exhibitors through an established advisory committee, we hear from the attendees by engaging them face-to-face and we also make time to seek out our presenters.”

It has been two years since the last regional forum at DuPage, and Cole said the decision has not yet been made as to whether this show will become an annual Chicagoland event. “We’ll announce our decision at the Annual Meeting and Convention in Las Vegas in October.”