Having just returned from covering my second Schedulers & Dispatchers I’ve learned that I really like the show. While much smaller than NBAA’s annual meeting, it’s still large enough that you can’t talk to everybody you might want to during the course of the conference and, covering the FBO beat for AIN as I do, of course it’s right up my alley as the service providers use it to showcase their facilities. This year was the first time we covered live news from the show, and the response suggests it won't be the last.
NBAA locates S&D in smaller cities where the local visitor bureau views the annual conference as a “big fish." This year’s edition was held in the Alamo City, San Antonio, and indeed the conference must have been a shot in the arm for the local hospitality trade as restaurants along the city’s Riverwalk were crowded with show attendees each night. Each morning I followed the banks of the Riverwalk from my hotel to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, which housed the conference exhibit halls and education sessions.
That first day, I lugged an extra suit along with me. For the past three years the conference organizers have asked attendees to bring some of their unneeded business clothing to donate to a local charity in the conference’s host city. I had one suit in my closet that I realized I would likely never fit into again, so I packed it and dropped it off with the “Pay It Forward” folks. I hope it helps someone make a good impression at a job interview. By the end of the conference, organizers had accumulated some 300 garments, all of which will go toward helping San Antonio’s disadvantaged get a new start on life.
One endearing feature of S&D is lunch. At noon each day of the conference, the exhibition halls close, all sessions end, and everyone—all 2,400-plus attendees and exhibitors—troops into the ballroom for lunch. It's a civilized arrangement that contrasts with other shows, where meals are uncertain at best, and you never know with whom you will sit. On one of the days I found myself at the same table as an Olympic medalist (bronze rowing) from last summer’s London games who in his day job works for an aviation insurance provider.
I also attended several of the education sessions, including one tour-de-force by Rick Snider, senior manager of contracts and compliance for Rockwell Collins Flight Information Solutions Commercial Systems, on the complex topic of international taxes and fees. Have you overflown Mexico in the last 10 years and not received an ATC usage bill? Don’t worry, you will, Snider cautioned the audience. Other topics among the 32 info sessions presented at the conference included flight operations locales such as South America, China and India, each with their own quirks, described by experts who deal with them regularly.
I had nervously anticipated Friday, the last day of the show, as it was my turn on the hot seat. I had agreed to pinch-hit in one of the sessions for a friend who withdrew from the conference. The panel topic was FBO Expectations in which I presumably would present a journalist’s perspective on the service industry. Since the annual AIN FBO survey was still open at the time (it closes on February 8), I thought this would be of great interest for the audience, which I believed would be filled with FBO people. Judging by the number of queries I get each year before and after the survey results are announced, I anticipated and prepared to field numerous questions.
What I failed to take into account was that most of the FBO people at the show were there as exhibitors. Once the halls closed for good on Thursday afternoon, they pretty much packed their bags and were home by the time the presentation began the next morning. I noted a few familiar FBO faces in the audience, but most were flight department members more interested in grilling my esteemed co-panelists: Betsy Wines, Teterboro-based Meridian’s vice president of customer service, and Michael Heilpern, operations manager at Monterey Jet Center, about how to get the best FBO service for their flight crews. Still, I enjoyed my first industry panel effort, and I’ll look forward to my next opportunity.
Next year, the conference marks its 25th year, and for its silver anniversary S&D will return to New Orleans for the first time in 20 years.