Aviation Summit Focuses on Challenges

 - May 2, 2013, 3:40 AM

Never known for hiding his light under a bushel, former American Airlines chairman and CEO Bob Crandall kicked off a panel session of aviation manufacturing executives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual aviation conference in late March by asking them, “Why are you guys always late and over budget?” on delivering products.

Gary Spulak, president of Embraer Aircraft Holding, said the customer as a target is always moving and changing speeds because of many factors beyond his control. “Fuel costs, volcanic eruptions, bird flu–all of these things are happening and changing the dynamics of what makes the customer successful,” he explained.

One of the things Embraer does, he said, is listen to customers carefully. “It’s a remarkable thing to see that we as an industry, our OEMs as well as our suppliers, can tackle the issue of the development cycle where we are looking forward five to six years, trying to see where our customers will be [then],” Spulak said.

Clayton Jones, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Collins, said that “about every two years we do in-depth lessons learned as to root causes on why we don’t perform on time and on schedule on certain things. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t.” He said that for most of the OEMs that don’t develop a brand-new airplane every year–in fact the gestation period is usually five to 10 years between new airplanes–the ability to define requirements, and stabilize those requirements through the development cycle, is difficult, especially for those pushing the state of the technological art.

During the day-long 12th annual Aviation Summit, numerous panels discussed such topics as “Unmanned Aerial Systems” and “The Role of Technology, Operations, Alternative Fuels and Market-Based Measures in Getting to ‘Yes’ on an International Agreement on Aviation and Climate Change.”

Sequestration Concerns

An industry panel moderated by NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen on “Future Trends in Aviation” provided an opportunity to emphasize the importance of business aviation to citizens, companies and communities in the U.S.

The value of business aviation in a fiercely competitive global marketplace was on display during the annual gathering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., where NBAA was among the sponsoring organizations. A large banner showcased individuals from across business aviation who have been featured in the most recent No Plane, No Gain advocacy campaign.

Jointly sponsored by NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the latest ad campaign is called “Faces of Business Aviation,” because it puts forward real people in the industry to underscore for policymakers and opinion leaders the size, diversity and importance of business aviation in America today.

The sequester, Washington’s term for across-the-board agency funding cuts as part of deficit reduction, was definitely on the minds of those participating in the forum, partly because the cuts were expected to lead to the closure of 149 contract air traffic control towers.

Bolen pointed out that the planned closure of the towers in the coming weeks (since postponed) would be particularly felt by business aviation, because those towers often serve rural airports and the surrounding communities, which have limited or no scheduled airline service. There is “particular concern in our segment of the industry that this is a blunt-instrument approach” to the nation’s budget problems, Bolen said.

Equally important, Bolen pointed to future planning needs for the aviation community, and cautioned that sequestration could significantly affect NextGen modernization efforts. RTCA president Margaret Jenny agreed, noting that her organization is advising the FAA on future air traffic management efforts, including NextGen, and the timing of the sequester is especially challenging. “The sequestration is coming at the very time when the NextGen Advisory Committee is trying to move forward,” Jenny said.