Security is top topic for schedulers, dispatchers

 - October 15, 2007, 11:12 AM

If business aviation has been sideswiped by the economic mal-aise, it would have been difficult to find evidence of any damage at NBAA’s 14th Annual Schedulers
& Dispatchers Conference. This year’s venue was Anaheim, Calif., home of Disneyland.

By the time the four-day event opened February 2, a record 198 exhibitors had spilled out of the salon and additional booths lined the entrance hall. And by the time it ended, a record 1,280 attendees had registered; many of the breakout sessions were standing room only.

While Mickey and Donald and other Disneyland characters may have been a drawing card for conference attendees, so were the keynote speakers for the conference–Erik Lindbergh, grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh; and astronaut shuttle commander Curt Brown–along with nearly 30 sessions and workshops on subjects from international operations and insurance liability to travel safety and weather.

NBAA president Jack Olcott set the tone for the event at the opening general session. Olcott noted that those attending were gathering at “a time of great uncertainty,” with the threat of war, terrorism and an economic recession in the future, and the tragedy of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia only two days earlier.

Olcott, who will end his tenure as president on December 31 this year, took the same aggressive posture toward the future of business aviation that has marked his 11-year tenure as president of the association. As he has often said in past months, Olcott noted that three-quarters of NBAA’s members “report the same or greater activity than before” 9/11.

Taking note of the scandals that have rocked Wall Street in the past year, he said that as a result public trust has been undermined. And he added that the key to rebuilding trust is not by telephone calls and e-mail, but by face-to-face contact. “Business aviation,” he concluded, “is the vehicle to rebuild that trust, by getting the right person to the right place on time. Despite great uncertainty…the need for business aviation has never been stronger.”

In spite of the challenges facing the business aviation industry, Olcott predicted that the first decade of this century will be “even better” than the last decade of the 20th century. As evidence, he noted figures from Wichita-based Cessna Aircraft. “It took Cessna 31 years to sell 4,000 Citations. By the end of this decade, they expect to sell their 6,000th Citation. In one-fourth of the time it took them to sell 4,000 Citations, they will sell 2,000 Citations. That,” said Olcott, “is quite impressive!”

Later, Olcott expanded on his opening-session message at a standing-room-only breakout session entitled “Hot Issues for Business Aviation.”

“Aircraft are excellent business tools when they fly,” Olcott told his audience, “but when they don’t fly, they represent liabilities. If they’re sitting on a ramp because they can’t get access to airspace or access to airports, they become marginal investments.”

Access is key, he said, adding that security determines access, and access to airspace and airports today is no longer controlled by the FAA, but by the TSA. And while he appeared to find some comfort in the fact that the new head of the TSA, Adm. James Loy, is “very familiar with user groups, NBAA is concerned that there may be a little too much interest in business aviation on the part of TSA.” He warned that the old joke, “I’m from the FAA and I’m here to help to help you,” could shift to, “I’m from the TSA and I’m here to help you.”

Security Controls Access
He noted in particular that Part 91 flight departments bore the brunt of new security restrictions put in place after September 11. This despite the fact that “Part 91 flight departments have been practicing the highest levels of security for decades.” Now, he said, “Our challenge is to document [those practices] and communicate them effectively to others, such as the TSA, so they will recognize our right of access.”

To that end, the TSA has selected an NBAA security protocol for a trial program for Part 91 operators, which is now being tested at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport. He noted that the first test run of the protocol was held just three days earlier, on January 31, and another was scheduled for February 7. Under the system, an operator would apply for a TSA access certificate (TSAAC). The holder would have special access privileges, “initially a blanket waiver for international operations.” There is also a push to allow such TSAAC holders access privileges for TFRs. Olcott said it is important that these privileges are in place if another security crisis arises. “The only assets you can count on in a time of crisis are those that are already in place.”

While the TSAAC program may prove successful, with regard to blanket waivers, he added, operators should not expect TSA to look favorably on such requests.

Olcott also commended the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) for its initiative in petitioning the FAA for a form of acceptable pilot photo identification. He further applauded AOPA’s successful airport-watch program, patterned on the neighborhood-watch concept. The latter effort has resulted in a nationwide toll-free number–(866) GA SECURE–through which users may report any suspicious activity. Also part of the program is an airport-watch security videotape from AOPA, available this month. Olcott noted that NBAA’s Web site will have a link to the AOPA site, where more details are available.

As for the TSA requirement for fingerprinting of new employees by Part 135 operators, Olcott said the agency has established a policy “at this time” under which it will check the applicant’s prints only against the watch-list of known “bad guys.” He also noted that while fingerprinting as a requirement in background checks does apply to new hires, current employees may not be fingerprinted as a requirement for continued employment without new legislation. Olcott also pointed out that there is no guarantee that the fingerprint background check would not be extended to include Part 91 operators in the future.

Olcott said NBAA continues to argue for a resumption of business aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), but he warned, “It’s not going to happen tomorrow.” When it does reopen to business aviation, he said, it will likely be under a TSAAC-plus program in which, for example, the operator is required to submit in advance a passenger manifest to allow background checks on the passengers.

Olcott pointed out that there is a risk of becoming paralyzed by thinking only of DCA, but that giving up that fight might set a precedent that would encourage the closure of other airports to business aviation traffic.

Responding to the continued growth in international travel by business aviation operators, the conference focused on subjects related to flights outside the U.S. On Sunday, before the official opening of the conference, NBAA sponsored a day-long International Procedures Training Course taught by Air Training International president Dave Stohr. Some 50 students sat in on the class, absorbing information that included everything from understanding FAA regulations and the language and tools of international travel to lists of resources, FBO services and suggested forms, including airport and country worksheets and the standard service form.

International Items
A Tuesday international operations review chaired by Air Routing International offered a series of brief overviews of what the scheduler/dispatcher might expect to deal with in various countries. Presenters provided an overview of recent developments in a number of countries, noting that among other things:

• Due to political unrest, fuel availability may be limited in Venezuela. As of January 21 jet-A was in Caracas but not available in Valencia.

• Aviation worker strikes in France may ignite sympathy strikes in other French labor groups.

• Clearance to the Virgin Islands has become more strict, and without pre-clearance approval it may prove to be time-consuming.

• Do not expect English-speaking personnel at domestic airports in Argentina and even at some international airports.

• Flights to Easter Island must pass the point of no return before another flight is allowed to depart to the island.

• New construction on Runway 17R starts in May at Los Cerrillos International Airport in Santiago, Chile.

• Landing authorization is now required for flights to Colombia.

In a discussion on jet fuel titled “From crude oil to your aircraft,” Phillips 66 Company aviation manager J. Mark Wagner had good news and bad, though mostly bad.

Wagner noted that while the seers in the mid-1970s forecast the world’s supply of oil would run out by the year 2000, “they were wrong.” They were wrong because they based their projections on the technology that existed at the time. That was the good news.

The bad news was that in spite of new oil fields and better ways of extracting oil from the earth, the cost of fuels, including jet-A, will go up as a result of government regulations requiring further reduction in sulfur content, from 3,000 parts per million to 500 parts per million.

Second Largest NBAA Event
As the convention concluded, organizers offered the observation that of all the NBAA events, the schedulers and dispatchers get-together had become second in size only to the association’s annual meeting and convention.

According to vice chairwoman Lisa MacCartney, the schedulers and dispatchers committee had been somewhat apprehensive about attendance at this show, “in light of the pending war with Iraq and the economy. But we’ve been delighted with the response.”

MacCartney said NBAA continues to bring in new members “with fresh ideas, and a good mix of ideas with representatives from all the different industry segments: Part 91 flight departments, Part 135 operators and FBOs. And we continue to try to add quality sessions and workshops to benefit those attending.”

Among the new sessions this year was “FAA Systems Training: Interactive Instruction on Tools and Information,” a three-hour session conducted by Deborah Johannes, FAA Collaborative Decision Making Lead, ATCC, and Jo Damato, manager of NBAA’s general aviation desk at the FAA ATC center. According to MacCartney, it was a “condensed version” of the full course now being offered by the FAA throughout the country in “How to get the aircraft up when the system is down.”

Also new was a 2.5-hour security forum moderated by Olcott that included panelists representing the TSA, Texas Instruments, Air Security International and Denver Centennial Airport.

“We were very happy with this year’s conference,” said MacCartney.” In the meantime, she added, the committee plans to continue to emphasize the importance of training for schedulers and dispatchers, and is working on creation of a distance-learning course.

The 2004 Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference is scheduled for January 12 to 14 at the convention center in Savannah, Ga.