NATA members address new business concerns

 - May 16, 2008, 10:27 AM

Attendees at this year’s Aviation Services and Suppliers’ SuperShow (AS3) were acutely aware that this was their first such get-together since September 11. AS3 is a joint trade show held during the concurrent conventions of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA). Some 300 vendors displayed wares ranging from marshalling wands to fuel trucks as 3,000 NATA and PAMA members plied the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center from March 26 to 28.

At last year’s show in Long Beach, Calif., the talk was all about the faltering economy: did the anemic stock market truly spell the end of a meteoric blitz of business aviation activity seen during the heyday of the dot-com era? And if so, when would the recovery cycle begin?

The buzz this year was entirely different. True, the state of the economy was still on everyone’s mind. But any discussion about economic indicators piggybacked concerns over possible new security measures, the attitude and reach of the mushrooming federal Transportation Security Administration and how the public’s perceptions of general aviation would affect the aircraft service business in the short and long term.

Guest speaker Dr. Robert Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, might have seemed to be just the authority to shed light on what NATA may expect in the way of new security mandates from the federal government. As it turned out, however, he was no more enlightened than two new officials of the TSA who, at the request of NATA president Jim Coyne, could also offer little in the way of hard facts upon which to base future plans for security measures.

One man wasn’t waiting to hear from the TSA, however. Bob Jandebaur, former owner and operator of Million Air Tulsa (Okla.), had been hard at work in the months since September 11 assembling what he considers the ideal mix of vendors of security products. His new company, Navigance Technologies Group, displayed an integrated system incorporating digital surveillance cameras from Samsung; biometric morphoAccess fingerprint imaging system from Sagem (for access to doors and gates); wireless networking and broadband technology from Teaco that combines the communications and biometric systems with Internet-based surveillance access; and an aviation video surveillance and weather observation system (Avswos) using Belfort weather sensors and combined by Mobile Equipment International.

Navigance combines the five companies’ products in an aviation-specific security package that Jandebaur hopes will be accepted as a model for TSA security compliance. On the final day of AS3, he told AIN he had sold as many as 25 systems at approximately $50,000 each, depending on how many cameras are involved and how much integration is required by the end user.

One guest speaker invited by NATA could honestly say that he wished he hadn’t been asked to share his story. Robert Cooper is the owner of the Tampa, Fla. flight school that operated the Cessna 172 stolen by 15-year-old Charles Bishop and flown into the side of an office building in downtown Tampa on January 5. He related that he received a message on his beeper that morning and explained how the rest of his day unfolded.

Cooper described Bishop as one of those airport kids who followed the grand old tradition of trading work for flying lessons. “We all knew Charles,” he said. “Everyone around the airport did. We had no reason not to trust him.” Cooper said, Bishop was scheduled for a lesson that morning, accepted the airplane keys from his instructor to preflight the airplane and walked out to the ramp. He also described how, despite their familiarity with Bishop, flight school personnel immediately became suspicious when they saw him untie the airplane and get in without conducting a preflight. He started the airplane without applying brakes and, with no call to the control tower, began taxiing to the upwind (closest) end of the runway.

Cooper said employees at the flight school immediately called the tower controllers on the telephone as Bishop ignored radio calls. Even though he was airborne only a few minutes, Bishop was intercepted by a Coast Guard helicopter that had been alerted by Tampa Tower.

Cooper said his first call after learning of the circumstances leading up to the event was to his lawyer. “My advice to all of you in the aviation business is that if you don’t have a media-savvy attorney on retainer, get one.” Through a well conceived and coolly executed plan of action, Cooper and his attorney were able not only to exonerate the flight school of any blame in the incident, but to make a positive statement for the safety and security of general aviation as a whole despite the unfortunate events. The message in the general media was, first, this fluke crime could have happened to anyone in any line of business; and, second, light airplanes pose less of a threat to people on the ground than most would have imagined.

Bizav Biz Goes On

Proving that the business of aviation business goes on in the wake of the dark events of the past eight months, AirBP and Valley Oil Co. announced a 50-50 ownership joint venture known as Air BP Aviation Services. The deal had been in the works for more than two years. Air BP Americas general manager Graham Rose called the joint venture “revolutionary, not evolutionary” and said he was excited and confident about its future. The concept of Air BP Aviation Services was to combine the global reach of Air BP with the individual attention to aviation fuel customers that has been a hallmark for Valley Oil.

Under the new business model, each Air BP dealer will have a team of three representatives from Air BP Aviation Services assigned to the account. With headquarters in Salem, Ore., and Chicago, Air BP Aviation Services will have 12 regional offices. Led by former Valley Oil president Mike Delk, the sales force will attempt to retain Valley Oil’s reputation for customer service while incorporating the global reach of Air BP’s Sterling Service credit card and marketing program.

Also on board as v-p of sales and business development is David Brinson, former manager of the Washington Dulles Piedmont Hawthorne FBO and a long-respected industry veteran. It was Rose, however, who placed the new venture in perspective. He said, “I’m excited on the one hand and I have tremendous anxiety at the same time. How big we are puffs us up, but our customers don’t care. The measure of the value of Air BP Aviation Services is what we can deliver to the customer day in and day out. The coming months will tell the story.”

The story is already unfolding. In a recent announcement, Air BP Aviation Services announced it had lured the following six FBOs into its customer fold: Aero Air of Portland, Ore.; Flightcraft of Portland and Eugene, Ore.; Ronson Aviation of Trenton, N.J.; and the Million Air franchises in Chicago (Midway Airport) and Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

Besides Gates, other speakers at this year’s NATA convention included Joe Gibbs, former coach of the NFL Washington Redskins; and James Fallows, senior editor for The Atlantic magazine and author of the book Free Flight. A panel discussion entitled “General Aviation Airport Security: Prudence or Paranoia?” was moderated by NATA president Coyne and included representatives from FBOs and airports discussing their experiences since September 11.

The association’s industry excellence awards were given out during the annual meeting. NATA presented its Distinguished Service Award to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. Irvin Gleim, president of Gleim Publications, received the Excellence in Pilot Training Award; the Airport Executive Partnership Award was presented to William Barkhauer, airport director of the Morristown (N.J.) Municipal Airport; the General Aviation Service Technician Award was given to Bartholomew Lalla, director of marketing services for Jet Aviation; and the Aviation Journalism Award went to Richard Aarons, safety editor for Business and Commercial Aviation magazine. The Air Traffic Control System Command Center received the FAA Customer Service Excellence Award. NATA’s William A. Ong Memorial Award, given for extraordinary achievement and extended meritorious service to the general aviation industry, was presented to Herb and Arlene Elliott, founders of Elliott Aviation.

Next year’s AS3 show will be held in the warmer climes of Charlotte, S.C., from May 13 to 15.