Against the backdrop of a building economic crisis, a presidential race in which neither side seems particularly friendly toward business aviation and a vocal onslaught against “fat cat private jet polluters” from the airline and environmental lobbies, the NBAA Convention arrives in Orlando facing a range of difficult issues even as the industry’s overall health appears as strong as ever.
NBAA Convention News spoke with association president Ed Bolen about the upcoming election, the fight against user fees, aviation “green” initiatives and other issues of importance to NBAA members. Bolen also talked about a new event on the trade show calendar, the Light Business Airplane Exhibition planned for next March in San Diego. It is a show that NBAA hopes will follow in the mold of the successful European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE), an event that held its first small gathering in 2000 and has since grown into one of the year’s most important business aviation gatherings. Excerpts from our conversation are included here.
Is there anything about either candidate for president that you think stands out as being particularly encouraging–or troubling?
Historically, transportation has been pretty bipartisan. Generally speaking, candidates from both parties recognize transportation infrastructure and the value of transportation infrastructure to the economy, and as you know we’ve had presidents in both parties who have been supportive of general aviation and others who have not. I think it’s a little bit difficult to say. Neither of the parties has been very specific about general aviation or general aviation issues. There are not a lot of clear and unambiguous statements on general aviation. I think we’ll have to see where it all ends up.
What are the chances that the FAA reauthorization bill in Congress will remain intact without user fees?
Congress this term has had a vigorous debate on user fees, and I think it has largely rejected the idea. Clearly there is no user-fee language in the House bill, and the bill that went to the Senate floor this spring did not have user fees. It would be unlikely to see them resurfacing at this point, in this Congress. And now they have simply extended the current taxes and the current authorization to March.
Looking ahead to the Light Business Airplane show next spring, what are you hoping to accomplish?
We hope it will be a very worthwhile show for those people and companies that are using light general aviation airplanes to help their businesses succeed. We have been reaching out and talking to the community, and in fact we recently had an MU-2 operator join our board of directors. I think there is a real desire in that community to have a show targeted to the way they are using these types of airplanes.
Hopefully we will be able to address the need that they’ve perceived in the marketplace.
What’s the size of the show you’re anticipating? Will it be reminiscent of the first EBACE show in terms of size? Smaller than that, maybe?
EBACE is a show that started small but because it was productive and worthwhile for the people there, it has grown, gosh, almost exponentially, over a short period of eight years. So yes, I think EBACE would be a good model and we would be pleased to see this have the kind of growth and enthusiasm that we see generated at EBACE.
What about future sites for the NBAA Convention? Has there been any headway made in bringing the show back to Las Vegas, and what’s the latest on a possible return to New Orleans?
When we were last in Las Vegas we had some airport challenges that some of our attendees found troublesome, and were not in line with the way we would like to do a show. We continue to work with Las Vegas to see if those concerns can be addressed. We held a regional forum in Las Vegas this year. We’re going to do another one next year. The good news about that is it brings us face to face with the airport officials, the city officials and the convention officials. I think we have a good dialogue and they understand us, but there are still some logistical issues that we need to address before we can get back to Las Vegas.
And New Orleans?
We continue to watch New Orleans pretty carefully, and we’ll try to make a judgment on when it would be appropriate for us to go back. I think we’re still in an evaluation phase.
NBAA this year has launched an initiative to be more environmentally responsible at its shows. I’m curious about your thoughts on green issues that are impacting business aviation, in terms of emissions policies in Europe, carbon trading proposals and so on.
The environment is clearly a major issue, and it’s one where we have seen the regulators in Europe taking the lead. We’re in very close contact with EBAA, our EBACE partners. We are all working collectively through IBAC–the International Business Aviation Council. We believe that environmental regulations should come through ICAO rather than a patchwork of national regulations given the inherently international nature of business aviation. Clearly it’s a big issue, it’s a growing issue, and it’s one in which we think our community has been responsible as we’ve addressed it, but we also recognize that this is something that will require our constant attention as we go forward.
What’s the message you’re trying to convey with regard to the environmental impact of business aviation, and do you believe the industry is doing enough to minimize the impact?
I think it’s clear that we recognize the issue. We want to operate in environmentally friendly ways. A lot of resources have been going into technology that reflects that–whether it’s winglets, precision navigation, more efficient turbine engines and general aviation’s leading role in the use of lighter materials and composites. We’re trying to make sure people understand it’s a priority for us, it has long been a priority for us and we’re continuing to focus on it. There are individual technologies on board an airplane that can help or, equally as important, ATC system improvements. A large part of our commitment to the next generation air traffic control system are the statements by the government that it can reduce our average overall carbon footprint by 10 to 12 percent. That’s significant, and that’s worth time and attention, and it’s why we’re such strong proponents of moving forward on that front.