It takes more than a monster storm and a potentially stifling presidential TFR to knock out the 65th Annual NBAA Convention and Trade Show. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the northeastern U.S. on the Saturday before the annual gathering, airlines began a chain of flight cancellations that eventually topped 8,000 before the storm made landfall in southern New Jersey on Monday evening.
With airlines backing out of the picture, the organization itself found that business aviation came to its rescue. “Most of our staff came in early to set up the show,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. But not everyone made it out before the cascade of flight cancellations. “We brought down several key staff and a speaker on a chartered aircraft that left the Washington, D.C. area on Sunday, in the early evening,” he continued.
Business aircraft all over the northeast were relocating out of harm’s way by then, some taking key personnel with them. It’s anyone’s guess how many NBAA convention attendees found themselves chartering aircraft at the last minute to get to the show after airline cancellations, but most speakers managed to journey here one way or another. NBAA said that as of Tuesday morning 23,000 people had registered to attend.
As if the storm was not disruption enough, the President of the United States decided to pay Orlando a campaign call just before the convention began, locking down Orlando’s airspace for Sunday evening and Monday morning. NBAA, once it learned of the TFR, went to work negotiating with the Department of Homeland Security to mitigate the restriction’s typically onerous effect on general aviation traffic.
“We were able to set up gateway airports for flights coming into Orlando so that they could clear TSA there, and then come on into Orlando Executive or Orlando International airports,” said Bolen. “We were also able to negotiate it so that operations were unimpeded at Orlando Sanford Airport and Kissimmee Airport. And once the President was on the ground operations were unimpeded at Orlando International as well,” he added. In the end the President left earlier than planned, to be back in Washington, D.C. before the storm arrived, and Monday’s air traffic in the Orlando area was back to normal earlier than expected.
As of press time yesterday afternoon, the airlines were still not operating in the northeast. That said, calls to several business aviation airports in the northeast yesterday afternoon revealed that Teterboro Airport was closed; but White Plains Airport, Long Island McArthur Airport, Morristown Airport and Atlantic City Airport were all open. The last business aviation flights before the storm left on Monday morning, with the exception of Long Island McArthur, where a Sheltair employee told AIN that the last flight left at around 9 p.m. Sunday night. For the most part only military, Coast Guard and police helicopters were operating at the open airports, with the exception of White Plains, where several business jets had arrived around the noon hour on Tuesday, according to airport operations there. FBOs at White Plains were without power, however, at that time, and could not be contacted by telephone.
The flexibility of general aviation revealed itself in another fashion, as AIN learned that a company that needed to rush a group of electrical technicians to help with repairs to the northeast U.S. used its own business aircraft for the trip.