Bolen prepares NBAA to meet future challenges

 - October 1, 2007, 11:10 AM

Ed Bolen is having little trouble settling in at NBAA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

An old hand at carrying general aviation’s banner–beginning with a stint as a Senate aide on Capitol Hill and continuing for almost a decade with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA)– NBAA’s new president is already well versed in representing business aviation to policymakers.

Most recently president and CEO of GAMA, Bolen has represented general aviation in other capacities. Before joining GAMA, he was the majority counsel to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources and later was legislative director for former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.). As such, he was a key player in helping to get the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 signed into law, which fueled a resurgence in the moribund general aviation airplane manufacturing industry. In addition, he served four years as chairman of the FAA’s Management Advisory Council and on the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry.

“The future of business aviation looks incredibly bright,” Bolen told AIN in an interview just eight days after taking office last month. “Exciting new technologies, great new airplanes, operating models like fractional ownership, jet cards–there are just so many ways to match the airplane and the utilization/ownership strategy to the mission that it’s really exciting.”

He cautioned, however, that a number of issues could threaten business aviation’s access to airports or to airspace, and unless those challenges are met, business aviation’s potential for growth will be constrained.

The primary threats to business aviation access, he suggested, are congestion, the competitive forces of scheduled airlines, security and environmental challenges, such as Stage 2 bans and night curfews.

“I think that there are a lot of areas where our access to airports and airspace will be challenged,” said Bolen, “and I think how well we meet those challenges will say a lot about whether or not business aviation reaches its full potential.”

He added that NBAA needs to continue its education/advocacy role because business aviation is still misunderstood, despite being a vital link in the transportation system and an engine of the economy.

“So many businesses today, so many companies, predicate their entire business operation model on the use of a business aircraft,” Bolen explained. “It is part of the decision about where they locate plants and facilities, it’s part of how they think of their distribution chain, it’s part of how they view customer service. So it’s really the fabric of a large part of our economy, and I don’t think that is understood or appreciated.”

Forging Cooperative Relationships
Bolen said he expects to use his lobbying skills while serving as NBAA’s top official because over the years members have said “pretty consistently” that they want NBAA to be involved and to be effective in government relations.

“I am going to be personally involved to a large degree in NBAA’s lobbying efforts, and I think that it will be a priority for this association going forward.”

Bolen’s former job at GAMA has prepared him for dealing with international issues, especially since foreign OEMs have joined the organization. GAMA is also actively engaged in international aviation activities, including helping to bolster the European Union’s new European Aviation Safety Agency, which has taken over regulation and certification from the JAA.

“Business aviation is inherently international–the airplanes don’t know any national boundaries,” said Bolen. “I think that the world as a global marketplace has become a reality.”

Currently, about 70 or 80 percent of all business aviation activity emanates from the U.S., according to Bolen, but that may not be the reality 10 or 20 years from now. He said there are many opportunities in Europe, and the European Union in particular wants to become a world leader in all aspects of aviation. “I think that represents some potential for business aviation,” he suggested.

He also described South America as a strong market, and said that holding LABACE in Brazil reflects the organization’s belief in the region’s potential.

“And Asia is something we are really excited about,” Bolen continued. “For a number of years GAMA and NBAA worked really closely in trying to open up slots at [Tokyo] Narita and Haneda. The progress has been slow but it has been progress; we’ve gone from two slots to five slots.”

He is seeing a continued awareness and maybe a growing appreciation of business aviation in Japan, aided in part by the Japanese Business Aviation Association, which he described as a good partner.

“I think that Japan is beginning to try to make sure it continues to be viewed as the gateway to Asia,” Bolen said, “and as we see China beginning to open up and relax some of its restrictions on general aviation, I think that creates a competitive dynamic with Japan, which will be helpful.”

In addition to working with NBAA during his years at the helm of GAMA, Bolen was favored to lead a proposed alliance between GAMA and NBAA intended to make the two associations more powerful on Capitol Hill. However, NBAA chose to stay on its own and instead hired Shelley Longmuir, a highly touted lobbyist for United Airlines, to replace Jack Olcott as president and CEO.

AIN asked Bolen whether the previously proposed lobbying entity might now provide some additional synergy between the two organizations. “GAMA and NBAA have had a particularly close relationship,” he explained. “If you look at our joint advocacy programs like ‘No Plane, No Gain,’ the media kickoff breakfast [held annually at the NBAA convention], the overlapping memberships that we have in each other’s associations, the common agendas that we’ve had, it has been an extraordinarily close relationship and one that I think is critically important.”

He noted that both associations represent important constituencies in the business aviation community. “I think we owe it to that community to make sure that we are using community resources as effectively and efficiently as possible,” adding, “I think that requires GAMA and NBAA to work very closely together.”

Adapting to a Changing Environment
Bolen said he wants to make sure that the association represents its members the way they want and need to be represented and adheres to the standard of excellence they expect. But he acknowledged that “as we look at the challenges that are out there, and we continue to better understand and communicate with our members, we may need to evolve and to adapt to a changing environment.”

Obviously, security is an example of a changing environment, and Bolen expressed hope that over time business aviation will find a way to become increasingly sophisticated about security.

“We’ve got to find ways to harden ourselves against attack, and yet promote the values–including freedom of mobility, freedom of association–that are really at the heart of our country,” he said. “I’m not sure with business aviation that we have seen from the government a growing sophistication in our approach to security. The ADIZ and the ban at Reagan National look like pretty crude instruments to me.”

He said that NBAA’s Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC) proposal represents some of the best thinking from the business aviation community on security ideas that might be reasonable, appropriate and arguably equivalent to airline security.

“It’s not an effort to create massive regulations, but it’s an effort to follow some of the concepts that you might see, such as a registered traveler program, where those who are willing to do certain things are able to receive some benefit,” said Bolen. “Our hope is that we are able to work with the security people on ways to become more sophisticated about security.”

While he acknowledged that TSAAC is a good start, he admitted that NBAA is uncertain whether it has received enough broad security cooperation to develop a sophisticated security procedure. While some at the TSA have worked closely with NBAA, Bolen said, “I don’t know that we are as broad as we need to be.” But he vowed that access to airports and airspace, including the security challenge, is going to be a top priority.

“At the end of the day, this is a community that deserves world-class representation,” declared Bolen, “and we’re going to find a way to make that a reality.”