NBAA’s 25th Annual Schedulers and Dispatchers Conference officially kicked off yesterday with the announcement that this year’s show had set a new attendance record of more than 2,600, a far cry from the 68 that showed up at the first conference held in 1989 at a Montvale, N.J. hotel. When combined with a record number of 495 exhibitors, this makes the 2014 event the largest on all accounts in the event’s history.
“The NBAA Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas really had a lot of momentum to it, and what we are seeing is that momentum is carrying over in 2014,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm here so you’ll not just see large crowds and a large number of exhibitors, [but] I think you will [also] see a feeling of excitement, a feeling of optimism, and with schedulers and dispatchers you’ll certainly see a can-do spirit.”
Bolen noted that the industry is still adapting to life in the aftermath of the economic crisis that wracked the global economy a little more than five years ago. “I think we’re realists, I think we’re understanding that since the Great Recession there has been a new normal, but I also sense that people feel that we’re moving forward,” he told AIN. “It might not be rocket growth, but we’re moving forward. I think that feels good after having gone through a period where things felt pretty precarious.”
At the opening ceremony, Schedulers and Dispatchers committee chairwoman Spring Adamo, flight logistics lead with FirstEnergy Service, got the show rolling by welcoming attendees, while at the same time challenging them to “turn off the autopilot, be engaged, be involved and ‘take the lead,’” the theme of this year’s conference.
In his opening address, Bolen reflected on the hurdles the industry has faced over the past year, including the government shutdown, which hamstrung the FAA for more than two weeks, as well as its current challenges such as the ongoing European emissions trading scheme, threats of the closure of California’s Santa Monica Airport, and the FAA’s recently postponed sleep apnea policy, which could subject pilots to costly medical screenings. Bolen noted the debate over the next FAA reauthorization has already begun, with renewed interest in privatizing the agency and funding it through user fees. In this election year, he quoted former President John F. Kennedy in stating “the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining,” and tasked the audience with establishing communications with their elected officials before any crisis.
“I was as excited at the beginning of 2014 as I have been about any year we’ve had in business aviation, and I’m coming up on 20 years in the industry,” Bolen told the crowd, describing the support the industry currently enjoys in Congress. “Today more than half the members of the U.S House of Representatives, a majority, belong to the General Aviation Caucus. Almost half of the United States Senate belongs to the General Aviation Caucus. That means that most of the people on Capitol Hill have raised their hand and said, ‘I believe in this industry, [and] I want it to grow.’”