If any of the founding members of the organization that eventually grew into the National Business Aviation Association could be transported through time to the 2007 NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention, they would undoubtedly be amazed by what they see here.
The organization has come a long way since its inception in 1947, when a group of 13 members of the Wings Club in New York sought to provide a higher profile for business aviation after World War II. The Air Transport Association (ATA) had been formed to represent the airlines, the airline pilots had organized the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and even private flyers were represented by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). But business flying, which was growing after the end of the war, faced the threat of regulatory restrictions at time when the air traffic control system was being pushed to the limit. (Okay, so maybe things haven’t changed all that much.)
Meeting on May 17, 1946, at the Wings Club, the initial group, led by Palmer J. (Bud) Lathrop, then vice president of Bristol Meyers, decided to rectify the situation. Lathrop invited the presidents of several companies to meet to discuss organizational efforts. Representatives of 16 companies arrived at the meeting, held during the Cleveland Air Races in November 1946. The name chosen for the new organization was the Corporation Aircraft Owners Association. Nine people were named to the temporary board of directors, and interim bylaws were drawn up. The first companies involved with the fledgling group were Republic Steel, Sinclair Oil, Champion Paper, Bristol-Meyers, Howes Brothers, American Rolling Mills, B.F. Goodrich, Burlington Mills, United Cigar-Whelan Stores and Socony Vacuum.
By Feb. 17, 1947, the group had obtained approvals for the not-for-profit corporation and met in New York for an organizational meeting. That September 24, the first annual meeting was held in Room 101 of New York’s Biltmore Hotel, home of the Wings Club, with 18 voting members and one associate company (Atlantic Aviation). In addition to members of the original group, the roster included Al Buchanan Drilling, Corning Glass Works, General Electric, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Hanes Hosiery Mills, National Dairy Products, Reynolds Metals, L.B. Smith and Wolfe Industries. With $1,239 in the treasury, the fledgling organization elected a permanent board of directors with nine members.
There were no exhibits at that first annual meeting. That element was added six years later in 1953, when the Annual Meeting and Convention was held at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. Only 233 people attended. By 1960, attendance hit 1,000 for the first time at the convention at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. In 1971, the organization held its first show in a convention center, the Minneapolis Convention Center, with 2,638 people attending. NBAA Convention News published its first issues the following year at the convention in Cincinnati.
Today, in Atlanta, 60 years later, well over 30,000 people are expected and there are more than 1,000 exhibitors covering a million square feet of floor space. In fact, the NBAA Convention is among the top 10 biggest trade shows in the country.
The association itself remained headquartered in New York until 1951, sharing Skyways magazine space at 444 Madison Ave., until the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) administrator suggested that the organization could benefit from a closer association with the CAA by moving to Washington. In 1953, the members of the organization realized that its name should reflect its growing constituency and it was renamed the National Business Aircraft Association at a special meeting held at the Wings Club in New York. By 1988, the association was reincorporated in the District of Columbia. At the time of its 50th anniversary in 1997, the name changed again to the National Business Aviation Association.
Ed Bolen, who has been president and CEO of NBAA for three years, told NBAA Convention News, “I think that the 60-year history of business aviation in the United States is a remarkable success story and a lot of the credit goes to the founders, who recognized the challenges we would face throughout the decades.” He specifically mentioned access to airports and airspace as an example. “We are still seeing restrictions,” he said. “A striking example is Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, where access to one of the most important airports in the country was eliminated for a four-year period following 9/11.”
He noted that the industry still has a long way to go in removing restrictions at that airport. “That the founders recognized that we had to be ever vigilant was truly farsighted,” he said. “They recognized the need to make sure the industry is safe and perceived to be safe by the public. If public did not perceive us to be safe,” he said, “companies would be reluctant to use business aircraft for their transportation and we would not be welcome in communities and at airports. Safety must be a given in the minds of the public.”