A roster of aviation and political luminaries welcomed an energized crowd to the NBAA 2011 opening general session this morning at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Joining NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen onstage were U.S. Senator Joseph Manchin III (D-W.Va.), FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman, Dave Everitt, presidetn of John Deere Agricultural and Turf Division, and former U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
In opening remarks Bolen announced that the 64th annual gathering had more display aircraft, more exhibitors and already more registered attendees than last year’s convention.
Keynote speaker senator Manchin, a longtime pilot, recounted how as governor of West Virginia he reorganized the state’s aviation assets and bought new aircraft, despite concerns of others who said the public would disapprove the expenditures. “I opened the door and showed the people of West Virginia what we were buying, and that transparency helped us immensely,” Manchin said. “I will tell all of you, tell your story before [others] tell one on you.”
Noting the political gridlock that has seized the federal government, Manchin said, “I want to apologize for the inactions of Washington. I can assure you there are those not looking at politics, but who are looking at the next generation, and willing to step out and make the tough votes, both democrats and republicans, and we’re going to do so.”
FAA Administrator Babbitt highlighted the safety and efficiency benefits of NextGen and noted that “For us to achieve these benefits does depend on operators willing to make the necessary investment in equipment and training to utilize these new techniques.” He also stressed the need for the FAA to receive proper funding levels and decried the short-term extensions the agency has been operating under since 2007, particularly with the need to move forward on NextGen. “If we delay investments, the cost will far exceed the cost of going forward today,” Babbitt said. “We can’t afford not to invest in NextGen.”
NTSB chairman Hersman implored attendees to take the lessons of baseball legend Ted Williams and his commitment to studying data and training in their approach to safety. “You are here because you value the best,” she said, concluding her account of the parallels his practices hold for the aviation field. “Take the lessons from Number 9 [Williams’s Red Sox uniform number] and make your flight department the best in human possibility.”
Everitt, of John Deere, explained the importance of the flight department in the company’s success and addressed the myths and misconceptions that harm the business aviation industry. “Those who think it’s a perk for the rich and famous, you don’t understand that business aviation is critical to operating successfully,” he said. Everitt noted that the John Deere flight department and fleet–a GV, G550 and two Citation Xs–had enabled him to travel more than 175,000 nm to and from 20 countries in the past year.
Bolen, retaking the stage to highlight the humanitarian missions that business aviation tirelessly performs, concluded the presentation by awarding physician, pilot and former senator Frist the NBAA Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership.