NBAA’s Leadership Conference is proving to be a popular venue for flight department personnel and the vendors that support the event, and this year a record 445 people traveled to Tucson in late February to network, learn new leadership skills and bask in the welcoming desert warmth in the middle of a harsh northern-states winter. Thirty-eight sponsors, also a record, joined aviation managers, chief pilots, maintenance managers, safety officers, schedulers, dispatchers, flight attendants and others at the conference.
Organized by the NBAA Corporate Aviation Management Committee (CAMC), the conference presented seven leadership experts and authors who “advised attendees how to influence, inspire and innovate in their daily jobs,” according to NBAA. Game-changer videos delivered inspirational messages from nine luminaries,English adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Joan Sullivan Garrett of MedAire and Duncan Aviation’s Robert Duncan among them.
The Leadership Conference was first held in Atlanta in the early 1990s, following in the footsteps of the then-new NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference. Pete Agur, chairman of the Van Allen Group consulting firm, helped launch the leadership event. “The theme, of course, was leadership,” Agur recalled. “Taking people who are spectacular as aviation professionals and helping them develop to that next level. And that’s been the heart of this conference since then. The [CAMC] is dedicated to this particular conference. It’s their biggest effort every year and they do a phenomenal job.”
“It’s about leadership training,” said CAMC chairman Ed White, who is also director of aviation for the two-airplane mbAviation flight department. “There is a leadership vacuum. It’s important to speak the language of the C-suite. We know how to fly well but strategically we don’t know how to report to [the head office].”
For future leaders, NBAA’s Certified Aviation Manager and Professional Development Program “are all great tools,” White said, as are graduate degrees. But he worries that flight departments are too insular and hopes that managers, pilots, flight attendants, schedulers and others who want to build their skills take advantage of events such as the Leadership Conference to network with their peers and gain valuable insights into how to run their operations and work with company leaders.
White has been on the CAMC for 10 years and was elected chairman in 2013. A major task now under way is to update the NBAA Management Guide, a project that is under the Management Tools Subcommittee headed by Tim Peace, director of aviation for PB Air. The plan is to harmonize the currently static NBAA Management Guide with the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), creating a dynamic interactive document. Its authors hope to post the harmonized new guide online by the end of October when White’s term as CAMC chair expires. Another element of updating the Management Guide is keying NBAA documents to the guide, so that, for example, when NBAA’s operational control white paper is updated, it is referenced in the guide and available to guide users researching that issue. “NBAA has dozens of white papers not tied to the guide,” Peace said.
Peace’s committee is also working on a major update of the NBAA Salary Survey, to make more of the data collected available. Specific information such as the salary for a pilot in a particular city used to be available until a software change revised the information output. Peace wants to see the survey data become more interactive, so members can drill down deeper into the trove.
Another effort White would like to see is more online content, to enable NBAA members and Leadership Conference participants to access material after the event, to help promote continued learning and information sharing. Some of the speakers at the conference, Dan Lier for example, did just that, providing follow-up material for those who opted in. Author Daniel Pink provided two of his books to attendees, thanks to a sponsorship by Duncan Aviation.
“I want to leave a legacy of change,” White said. “The diamond in the crown [of CAMC] is the Leadership Conference. Our challenge over the years is to stay relevant, and I think it is.”
Path to Leadership
Jeff Detig, a senior pilot based in Charlotte, N.C., attended the Leadership Conference in Atlanta last year, and this prompted him to join the CAMC. The main issue he wants to work on, he said, “is that we don’t have training to take people to leadership positions. This is one of the few opportunities to try and position myself for [opportunities like] that. This is a smart group of people and I learn from them.”
“It’s always good to stick your head out the front door and see what’s going on,” said corporate pilot Mike Talbot, who along with fellow pilot Frank Bronson wants to encourage younger people to learn about opportunities in corporate aviation. Bronson is also on the Professional Development Subcommittee.
“We see this as a future problem,” Bronson said. “It’s still a problem finding good people who fit the culture. There are significant barriers to coming into this industry.”
To that end the Professional Development Subcommittee is working on creating a more formal internship package to help flight departments that want to help launch young candidates into business aviation careers.
Peace is encouraged by the level of participation in this year’s Leadership Conference, especially the many women who joined the meeting as well as the broad cross section of attendees, from aviation managers to other flight department members. “Instead of silos, there’s cross-talk communication taking place,” he said.
“This is the only event where I get both advertising [opportunities] and networking and build my own skills,” said Robin Eissler, president and CEO of Citation brokerage Jet Quest. “This is a great place and an inclusive group,” she said. “We’re really focused on interaction and networking.”
The CAMC awarded $10,000 in scholarships to five recipients. “The conference provided invaluable lessons on how to become a more effective leader in business aviation,” said Jay Evans, NBAA’s director of professional development. “The speakers and game changers combined to make the powerful point that every one of us can be an agent of positive change in our industry.”
The Leadership Conference next year will be held February 22-24 in San Antonio, Texas. Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales, is incoming CAMC co-chair, along with Reggie Arsenault, Jeppesen director of general aviation sales and service.
Much more happened at this year’s Leadership Conference than can be covered in this article, and AIN plans to run more stories in upcoming issues focusing on a particular aspect of the CAMC’s work to further business aviation, from professional development to integrating unmanned aerial vehicles and other issues.