Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference 2010

 - February 24, 2010, 6:17 AM
This year’s Schedulers & Dispatchers event attracted nearly 2,300 attendees from all segments of the industry. Suzanne Moller (left) of FuelerLinx meets with one of the attendees during the two days the exhibit floor was open.

A dramatic drop in attendance at last year’s Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference–2,027 compared with 2,612 in 2008–led to concerns for the 2010 conference, coming as it was amid an industry looking for some sign of revival. But according to Jo Damato, NBAA staff liaison to the Schedulers & Dispatchers Committee, this year’s event was “terrific.”

Instead of another drop, attendance reached 2,282, “the third largest number of attendees ever.” Damato also noted that there were 150 first-time attendees, a number consistent with previous shows, as well as large numbers of pilots, flight department managers and aircraft technicians. And they came from as far away as France and the Czech Republic.

“Companies aren’t sending just schedulers and dispatchers,” she said, “which tells us that what this show has to offer makes it of value to more than schedulers and dispatchers.”

At the same time, NBAA’s decision to colocate its S&D conference with the National Air Transportation Association’s FBO Leadership Conference encouraged a larger attendance at both events. The NATA event, held January 25 and 26, provided a seamless segue into the NBAA conference. “A lot of attendees felt that being able to take advantage of a broader agenda from what was available in both conferences made it easier to justify the trip,” explained Damato. “We’re planning to do the same thing next year.”

The S&D conference this year featured 34 breakout sessions.

Educational sessions included family assistance planning as part of a flight department or company emergency response plan, Part 91 and Part 135 scheduling for beginners, advanced weather and a mini international operators conference. Some sessions were so well attended that organizers were forced to bring in additional seating.

One of the bigger changes this year was the decision to close the exhibit hall at the end of the second day. “We made it an education day so the exhibitors would have an opportunity to participate more fully in the show,” said Damato, “and we estimate we had close to 1,000 more attendees present on that last day.”

Not everyone at the convention would agree that the plan was a success. Paula Kraft, president of Tastefully Yours, suggested that cutting the exhibit hall from three days wasn’t the best idea. “The last day of the show is usually my opportunity
to visit other exhibitors and make connections, and the only breakout session I wanted to attend was the second day, and I couldn’t do that because with only two days in the exhibit hall, the last day was so busy I couldn’t leave the booth.”

Suzanne Moller of exhibitor FuelerLinx said the show this year generated “more excitement and general buzz” but, like Kraft, she said, “I would like to have had a third day. I usually make a point of visiting other exhibitors and I didn’t have time this year.”

Fabio Alexander, CEO of Miami-based Miami Executive FBO, had only praise for the show. “The optimism of last year turned to progress this year,” he said, adding, “We counted at least 40 solid leads, people who are flying again and looking for alternatives.”

Signature Flight Support, a long-time exhibitor, described S&D 2010 as “most definitely upbeat.” The decision to cut the exhibition time to two days “did focus attention on the exhibitors during those two days, and the particular idea kept everyone busy,” said v-p of marketing Patrick Sniffen. But he added that having a larger contingent than most exhibitors allowed Signature to rotate people and allow them to attend breakout sessions as well as make contacts among other exhibitors.

Conference Honorees

Among those honored at the conference was Sgt. Calvin Ball, the 1,000th “customer served” at the Schedulers Professional Development Program (SPDP) held on January 26, the day before the show officially opened. Ball is a navigator on Air Force One and remained for the conference.

The convention also served as a platform to introduce 52 individuals recognized for achievement in the SPDP. All have either received plaques and certificates of achievement or completed entire program modules. The SPDP courses are offered each year immediately preceding and at the same location as the S&D conference.
The Schedulers & Dispatchers Outstanding Achievement & Leadership Award was presented to Universal Weather & Aviation’s Fred Towers.

Speakers at the conference included NBAA president Ed Bolen; NATA president Jim Coyne; and Dave Everitt, John Deere & Company, president of worldwide agriculture and turf division, who discussed justifying business aviation in a changing world. Everitt, also a private pilot, noted that it is rare that corporate travel has come under greater scrutiny than in the past year, to which can be added increasing government regulations and ongoing pressure to reduce expenses.

Considering this, said Everitt, “It becomes clear that business aviation must communicate the value proposition it brings to the corporate world.”

At this year’s conference Darren Hall, v-p of marketing at Fargo Jet Center in Fargo, N.D., took over as S&D committee chair from Dorette Kerr, John Deere flight operations supervisor. Next year’s Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference will be held in early February in Savannah, Ga.    

WavePilot Launches Fuel Price RFQ System

Former FBO and flight department manager Alex Fisher launched a new system that allows aircraft owners/operators and dispatchers to request the best fuel prices from FBOs while planning a trip. Instead of looking up contract fuel prices or calling FBOs, Fisher’s new company, WavePilot, allows fuel buyers to post a request for quote (RFQ) that invites FBOs to offer their best price. “We’re a reverse auction in that sellers compete for buyers’ business,” Fisher explained. “Instead of prices being bid up, prices are bid down.”

Fisher researched the potential of an RFQ-based fuel-quoting system then began engineering WavePilot a year ago before running beta tests last year and formally launching the product at the NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers meeting in late January. “It’s tedious to have to shop for fuel,” he said, and often pilots or dispatchers end up settling for what they think is the best price. “We’re creating an online marketplace,” he said, “an environment where operators and FBOs can feel free to interact back and forth.”

FBOs that participate get to see competing FBOs’ lowest prices, and thus they can offer incentives or lower prices to secure the operator’s business. Some FBOs, for example, might add special pricing on de-icing or overnight hangar space or waive ramp fees. These offers can be sent privately to the operator. WavePilot doesn’t identify the operator during the RFQ process.

WavePilot allows the user to set an ending time for the RFQ, Fisher said, “just like on eBay [auctions].” Fisher expects operators to play FBOs against each other. “Savvy operators can take full advantage of the competitive environment,” he said, and he expects smart FBO owners will embrace WavePilot as a means of bringing in new customers. To bring FBOs into the WavePilot fold, Fisher’s team compiled a database of every general manager of every FBO in the U.S. so that they will receive the RFQs directly from potential customers. The benefit to FBOs is that WavePilot allows customers and the FBO to communicate directly. “We’re simplifying that entire process,” he said.

According to Fisher, big FBO chains are allowing their FBO general managers to participate in WavePilot. “Why would you not be in the game and participate in an opportunity to make a sale?” he asked. “It’s a completely new angle to buying and selling fuel.” Participation in WavePilot is free for now; Fisher has not yet decided how to profit from the service, but he does plan eventually for WavePilot to generate revenue.  

Twelve Awarded S&D Scholarships

The NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Committee announced the names of 12 individuals sharing $40,000 in scholarships to advance their aviation careers through continuing education. The recipients are:

• Cynthia Black, Citigroup Corporate Aviation

• Lori Booth, Goodyear Tire & Rubber

• Christina Chella, graduate of University of New Haven

• Brittany Davies, M&N Aviation

• Peter Gianos, H.E. Butt Grocery Aviation Services

• Danielle LeClair, Fargo Jet Center

• Andrew Mawdsley, Pentastar Aviation Charter

• Erik Perkins, ExxonMobil Oil

• Deb Prosinski, MassMutual Financial Group

• Melody Tharp, Desert Jet

• Rajen Vara, American Airlines

• Rhonda Wolfe, Humana

Sponsors for this year’s awards include Ac-U-Kwik, Air BP Aviation Services, Chevron Global Aviation, ExxonMobil Aviation and the Avitats, Jet Aviation FBOs and Charter Sales, Signature Flight Support and Universal Weather & Aviation. More than $300,000 has been awarded to schedulers and dispatchers through the program since 1997. For additional information about the scholarship program, contact NBAA director of operations and educational development Jo Damato at jdamato@nbaa.org.