In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, the NBAA canceled its 54th annual convention in New Orleans last month “to redirect the association’s resources toward national recovery and aid to the victims and their families,” president Jack Olcott said in a statement issued on September 12. This is the first time in its history that NBAA has had to cancel an annual convention.
The three-day event promised to be a record-setting event, with more than 1,070 exhibitors occupying more than 5,000 booths. Static-display reservations at New Orleans Lakefront Airport were at a record level also, with more than 140 aircraft expected. NBAA was to introduce a new report from Andersen Consulting that relates utilization of business aircraft to increased shareholder value and describes how companies can and do use the Andersen approach to identify the benefits of business aviation. Advanced registration was also ahead of last year. Convention officials anticipated between 25,000 and 30,000 individuals would have been in New Orleans September 18 to 20.
NBAA rescheduled only the annual meeting of NBAA members and its board of directors in Washington to some day or days between October 17 and November 28, as required by the laws of the District of Columbia and the association’s bylaws. As for the convention, NBAA said it is “postponed to a date and format to be determined.”
Before NBAA’s decision to cancel the convention–one of the association’s major sources of income– several of the convention’s largest and most lucrative exhibitors had already decided not to attend, including Bombardier, Cessna, Gulfstream, Jet Aviation, Raytheon Aircraft and TAG Aviation. Several smaller exhibitors also decided to withdraw. Most of the companies that canceled said they either supported or urged the NBAA’s decision, with some companies saying they decided not to attend for security reasons as well as the desire to volunteer their aircraft and other resources to assist in disaster relief efforts.
“The most visible members are the big guys,” NBAA president Jack Olcott told AIN, “but there was an equal number of little guys who called and told us that it just wasn’t possible, in light of Tuesday’s tragedy, to get their people to New Orleans. And there were flight departments with people spread all over the world, not knowing when they would even be home, much less whether they would be back in time to go to New Orleans.”
When NBAA released the initial statement that it was calling off the convention but rescheduling the “annual meeting” for later this month or in November, many operators mistakenly interpreted this to mean that the convention exhibits and other activities were also postponed to that timeframe. The confusion prompted Olcott to disseminate a followup statement shortly after the first to clarify that the “convention” was not going to be held and that members should cancel hotel and travel arrangements immediately.
In the second statement issued September 12, Olcott said, “NBAA will determine how best to reschedule the informational sessions that were planned for next week.” In addition, Olcott said NBAA will work with its members and associate members “in a manner that is satisfactory to delegates and exhibitors to fill the void created by the postponement.” NBAA is “committed to serving the needs of its members and the business aviation community,” Olcott added.
The second statement concluded with Olcott’s thoughts on the horrendous events of September 11:
“The events of yesterday were acts of war, as many of our nation’s leaders have stated. Unconventional war, but war nevertheless. The perpetrators are using the only weapon they believe they have available to them–terrorism–and their targets are you and me, the citizens of our country. We believe that terrorists win when they cause us to change our way of life, our way of conducting business and our confidence in ourselves. Thus the challenge for NBAA centered on how we would respond in a way that was sensitive to the nation’s needs and effective, yet not be curtailed by terrorism.
“Members advised us that they were using their flight-department resources to handle the transportation challenges created when all aircraft were grounded. Thus they could not be in New Orleans. Exhibitors, large and small, told us they were unable to set up exhibits and position sales staff.
“Each individual with whom I spoke said terrorists must not dictate our actions. Rather than going forward with the convention as usual, however, they recommended a more focused response, such as using the resources of the association’s staff and members to coordinate business aviation capabilities with the needs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and other government agencies. Our staff is doing these actions, as directed by the board.
“Furthermore, NBAA’s annual meeting and convention is an information exchange, and the need for information is greater today than it was before September 11’s tragic events. Issues such as security, dealing with airport issues and ATC are hotter today than yesterday. Thus NBAA will reschedule as many of the 75 convention informational sessions as soon as possible at a location or locations that serve members.
“We do not have specifics at this time. We will work with NBAA members and associate members to move ahead, and we greatly appreciate your understanding during these challenging times. Together, we will fight this war the best
way we can, as citizen soldiers moving on with our lives, with confidence that our system will protect us and prevail.”
In response to a query about refunding or adjusting registration fees and exhibit deposits, Olcott said “it’s too early for us to say exactly how we’re going to handle that. We will make the necessary adjustments to remedy that situation. We had to get something [information] out quickly. We don’t have all the answers now, but rest assured your association will stand by you.”