NBAA Convention News

Crisis mode: NBAA headquarters responds to terror

 - June 11, 2008, 6:20 AM

The events of Tuesday, September 11th shaped the week for NBAA’s staff, obviously. Monday proceeded at high-pace in anticipation of the 54th Annual Meeting & Convention. Bill Miller [senior marketing manager] of the convention and seminar department was already in New Orleans assisting the experts from the Freeman Companies who were in place, and Linda Peters [exhibits director], Marti Smith [convention services manager] and Sandy Wirtz [director of seminars and housing] were about to leave early Tuesday morning. I chaired a meeting of the FAA Safer Skies Joint Steering Committee at NBAA, and we were at peace with the world.

Per normal procedure, Alex Rushton (Pete West’s assistant in Government and Public Affairs) was monitoring CNN from his desk early Tuesday morning when a reporter interrupted the telecast shortly before 9 a.m. to say an aircraft had collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He called my phone, causing me to tune in CNN and start worrying if a general aviation aircraft using the Hudson River corridor had blundered. As we watched, another aircraft appeared about 9:03 and slammed into the South Tower. About 20 minutes later we received word that the Pentagon had been hit. And then rumors began to fly, such as the mall was on fire, the capitol had been struck, government buildings were car bombed.

Quickly consulting with senior staff, we developed an immediate response consisting of gathering the entire staff in the boardroom to apprise them of the situation and to establish communications procedures. Department heads were asked to identify the exact location of each of their staff, ascertain their status and inform (or have them inform) their families that all was well. (Because Bob Blouin [senior v-p, operations] was attending a funeral in southern Virginia, I placed Jay Evans [senior manager, airmen and commercial issues] in charge of the ops department. His military experience with emergency response honed during days at the Pentagon proved to be invaluable.) While staff were advised that they were free to depart the offices if they wished, we recommended that they stay at 1200 18th St. for several reasons: NBAA’s resources provided the best means of obtaining current and accurate information, we were not in a high threat area, the roads would be jammed and most of all, our members needed our services.

Each department established an information “tree” whereby I could contact department heads, and they in turn would start the flow of information to their departments via an agreed-upon network, with the last person on that network closing the information loop with the department head to assure that everyone was informed. All statements internally as well as externally from NBAA were cleared by me, so that the association was speaking with one voice and that rumors would not be spread.

Bob Lamond, [manager, air traffic services infrastructure] who was driving to work when he heard of the first airliner striking the Trade Center’s North Tower, diverted immediately to the FAA Command Center near Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD) and remained there for the duration. His interface with the GA desk established for collaborative decision making (CDM) by NBAA’s board proved to be the best and most immediate source of information available to business aviation. Coordinating with Jay Evans and linked to the world through Jason Wolf [senior Web master] and the NBAA Web site, Bob Lamond and his colleagues at the association were able to keep our members informed. As news of a civil (local as opposed to aviation) security nature became available, we gathered the staff in the boardroom to keep them informed.

We learned that Marti Smith had been stranded in Chicago and that Linda Peters and Sandy Wirtz had been grounded in Birmingham, Ala. Kathleen Blouin [v-p, convention and seminars] had not yet left the Washington area. Our initial reaction was not to let terrorism paralyze our lives, thus we continued with plans for the 54th Annual Meeting & Convention [AM&C]. Linda and Sandy rented a car and drove to New Orleans, and Marti booked passage on Amtrak. Kathleen and Bob, along with Joe Hart [operations service group], launched in a car from Washington. In checking with the executive committee, several members of the AM&C and community contacts, we received general support for proceeding with the convention. But that was Tuesday afternoon, before the full impact of the tragedy sunk in.

Early Wednesday morning, I e-mailed the Executive Committee and eventually arranged a conference call with them to review the AM&C continuance decision. We agreed the association should not let terrorists rule our personal or business lives. I relayed that several key associate members, notably Bombardier, wanted to have a conference call with other key exhibitors to participate in a community-wide decision regarding the AM&C. An 11 a.m. time for that call was determined, with Executive Committee participation. We were aware of Gulfstream’s decision, made late Tuesday, not to participate.

We initiated the 11 a.m. conference call with Bombardier, Gulfstream, Cessna, Raytheon, Piper, Dassault (U.S. and France), Rockwell Collins and GAMA’s Ed Bolen; [NBAA] chairman Phil Roberts was on the line as were other members of the Executive Committee. I began the discussion by stating that NBAA wished to hold the AM&C without social events to focus on information exchange and to demonstrate our commitment not to be ruled by terrorism. Then I asked [Gulfstream’s] Bill Boisture to state his position, which prompted others to voice their opinions. Bottom line: the major manufacturers felt that as the full magnitude of Tuesday’s tragic events sunk in and as our nation’s transportation system reacted with heightened security, the better response was to focus on making member resources available to emergency agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, Salvation Army and so forth. Furthermore, everyone expressed concerns that movement of personnel to New Orleans would simply not be possible as the extent of airspace restrictions started to become clear Wednesday morning. The conference call concluded with the agreement that it was NBAA’s board that would make the go/no-go decision, but that NBAA was indeed a membership-based association that would respond to membership needs and wishes. Finally, the Executive Committee stated that the board would meet via conference call at 1 p.m. Wednesday to decide the plan for NBAA’s 54th AM&C.

At the 1 p.m. conference call, several ideas were presented. A strawman statement was generated in concept, a second call was planned for 3:30 p.m. with the intent of making a decision by 4 p.m., and specific wording was constructed following the call. The 3:30 board conference call proceeded as planned, the statement was approved and a postponement was announced at 4 p.m. The board’s specific wording was published on NBAA’s Web home page and on e-mail, and I offered an amplifying statement.

Communications procedures established at NBAA for the emergency proved to be effective. Information flow between staff members and association members was, for the most part, clear and productive via the Internet (Web and e-mail) and by phone. Many direct contacts between Pete West and the highest levels of FAA and DOT were particularly valuable, as were all the interactions with operational types at the Command Center. Pete backed me up, and Joe Ponte [v-p, membership, marketing and regional programs] backed up Pete. NBAA truly functioned as a team.

First priority was reflecting the highly responsible character of business aviation (secure, safe, committed to providing business transportation in the nation’s best interest). Second was getting our members into the air without incurring restrictions that would be hard to live with in the long run. And third, to maintain our identity as the sophisticated side of general aviation but general aviation nevertheless as opposed to a separate group that could be targeted for fees once the crisis was over.

Upon being informed that the AM&C was postponed, Joe Hart headed back to Washington while Kathleen and Bob continued on to New Orleans where they explored how best to mitigate the situation. Ana [Mirando, director, financial and administrative services and human resources] gathered all our contracts so they could be reviewed by George Carneal [NBAA legal counsel] and myself. I developed and distributed an outline for a financial recovery plan to senior staff, with the intention to offer recommendations to the Executive Committee.

Getting our members into the air was the most visible aspect of last week’s activities, however. As observed by those who followed the action on the NBAA Web site, we were successful without imposing crutches that could hobble our community in the future. Friday, September 14 saw release of general aviation, provided an IFR flight plan was filed and followed. By Saturday we had negotiated procedures for airports within 25 mi of JFK and DCA VORs that, while burdensome, were for the most part tolerable. The FAA seemed impressed with NBAA’s help in suggesting access procedures in the airspace as well as regress from specific airports such as Teterboro in New Jersey (KTEB). Noting those successes, high-level FAA personnel requested NBAA’s recommendation for getting international flights under way.

Although our community was able to fly by late Friday evening, NBAA staff continued to provide services from headquarters all day Saturday and Sunday.

I was particularly impressed by the teamwork exhibited by NBAA staff. What occurred last week (and is ongoing this week) is a clear example of NBAA’s vital role as the recognized effective force for addressing the needs of the business aviation community. We truly functioned as a voice, a resource and a network.

What about the future? Our highest priority remains safety, which in today’s environment includes security. We are coordinating efforts with the other top GA associations, calling for a community-wide effort so that what emerges as an enhanced security system properly reflects the best of today’s security practices by NBAA member companies. Pete and I have been in contact with our counterparts to encourage a unified approach toward security issues.

While we concentrate on the crisis caused by the September 11 actions of terrorists and the subsequent issues of access and national security, we continue to deal with airport noise litigation at Naples (Fla.) and Van Nuys (Calif.). In other words, there are other concerns that require and are receiving staff attention.