With a snip of the ribbon, NBAA 2013 was opened yesterday morning–marking the first time the Association’s flagship annual event has been called the “Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition” (BACE). While the Association has been hosting this event every year since 1950, it recently renamed it to conform with its other global shows, such as EBACE (Geneva) and ABACE (Shanghai).
Addressing the audience, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen noted the fifth anniversary of the start of the global economic downturn that has mired the industry. Acknowledging the hardships the organization’s members have faced, Bolen noted that the investment in new products never ceased, resulting in the many new products announced here at the show. “We never ate the seed corn and today we are seeing a lot of that coming through the market,” he said. “We are seeing all of that investment coming to fruition.”
Sharing the word about the value of business aviation to the world is one of the key efforts of the show, and Bolen referred to a newly released study demonstrating the long-held belief that companies that use business aviation out-perform those that don’t is valid, not just in the U.S. but around the globe. The organization, as part of its continuing No Plane, No Gain information campaign, has also released a new “Top Ten” publication, in which the leaders of 10 leading businesses and organizations describe why business aviation is a critical tool.
While keynote speaker FAA administrator Michael Huerta was forced to cancel his attendance, apparently due to ongoing fallout resulting from the recent government shutdown, the impact was lessened by the panel of high-powered speakers. Representative Sam Graves (R-Mo.) is the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee and has used that position to convey the statistic that an overwhelming 85 percent of the companies that utilize aviation in the U.S. are small and midsize.
Graves, a pilot himself, is also the co-chair of the House general aviation caucus, which currently has 229 members and represents a majority in the House of Representatives. “The fact of the matter is general aviation is one of the most important industries out there because it affects everybody,” he said. “The way we look at it on the small business committee is it’s 1.2 million jobs and has about $150 billion worth of impact in terms of the GDP.” He cited the recent government shutdown, which paralyzed many aircraft sales and registration transactions, as a political pressure-play, aimed at getting people outraged enough to complain to their congressional representatives.
While Graves described the efforts of the House caucus as being on the offensive in spreading understanding of the necessity of business aviation, he called on everybody in the industry to step up as well. “When the FAA lost advocacy out of its mission statement, that’s when it was time for us to step in and make sure that we were advocating for ourselves because nobody else is going to go do it.”
TSA administrator John Pistole, who last attended NBAA’s annual convention three years ago, took the opportunity to update the audience on the efforts that the agency has made in providing a balance between national security and efficient general aviation operations. Pistole boiled down his agency’s purpose to one simple tenet: to promote the free movement of people and goods with the best security. “The question is how can we do that in the best partnership,” said Pistole. “What we have been working particularly in these last [few] years is [working out] how we can move away from that one-size-fits-all construct that TSA was given the mandate to do.”
In response, he said, the agency has utilized more pre-screening, based on voluntarily summited information. Rather than viewing everyone as a potential threat, the TSA now operates under the risk-based security concept that virtually everybody who travels is not a terrorist and simply wants to get from point A to point B safety. The agency has developed a “known crew” list, which encompasses 95 percent of all pilots and flight attendants, allowing their identity and status as an active crew member to be verified in real time, managing risk while facilitating those who have lawful access. “Everybody agrees the last thing we need is to have somebody be able to exploit some vulnerability associated with GA to have a terrorist attack.”
Pistole noted there are some particular business aviation-related issues that the TSA is continuing to address, such as temporary flight restrictions, citing the incident at last year’s NBAA show in Orlando when operations were impacted by the arrival in the area of President Obama.
John Snow, U.S Treasury Secretary from 2003 to 2006, was also on the panel. He began his talk with a play on the famous “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” theme. A strong proponent of business aviation, Snow said “I hope that with respect to this convention and with respect to your industry, the story doesn’t stay here and is propelled across the county and across the world because business aviation is a force for productivity, for competitiveness and for innovation in the American economy.”
Snow, who served as a policy-maker in the Department of Transportation during the early 1970s, recalled the first mentions of general aviation user fees, an idea that has kicked around the dark recesses of Washington ever since. He warned the audience that while recent attempts to enact user fees have been rebuffed, the industry should keep its guard up. “People in Washington are going to be looking for ways to deal with the budget mess. Every single source of additional revenue is going to be examined, and you’ll be a target.”
While the recent government shutdown proved unpopular, to put it mildly, Snow said it served to highlight deep issues that will have to be addressed with the growing cost of entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare. Left unchecked, those programs will absorb all current U.S. government revenues within 10 to 15 years, according to Snow, “meaning there’s nothing left for the rest of the government, the agricultural program, the FAA, the DOT [or] the DOD.
“While I really disagree with the tactics that some from my party followed, I have to say on the fundamental issues they are right,” said Snow, noting that while he expects meaningful budget compromises to come, they will likely be under the administration of a future president. He closed with a quote from Winston Churchill: “America always gets it right… after it has exhausted every other possibility.” o