After testing the concept last year in Atlanta, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) has begun holding a series of Air Charter Operators Town Hall meetings, with the first this year held yesterday at the Ross Aviation FBO in Long Beach, California. Approximately 20 charter operators and industry participants attended the meeting, which was led by Tim Obitts, NATA's executive v-p of operations and business and general counsel; Suran Wijayawardana, chair of the NATA Air Charter Committee and COO of Alerion Aviation; and Ryan Waguespack, v-p of business development for Priority Jet. The next town hall event is scheduled for Greer, South Carolina, on January 31 at the SAI Flight Services FBO.
NATA’s Air Charter Committee holds meetings four times a year (twice face-to-face and twice via conference call), said Wijayawardana, “but we wanted to get feedback at the regional and local level.” Because NATA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., most of the member feedback comes from East Coast operators, he explained, and the association is hoping to generate more discussion of issues and requests for help from Midwest and West Coast operators. “This is the first step to getting into a more grassroots scenario,” he said.
After asking the town hall participants to “be open and tell us what you feel,” he outlined some of the key problem areas facing charter operators. The wide-ranging discussion that ensued covered the pilot shortage, which is keenly felt by charter operators from which airlines are hiring pilots; pilot training, especially issues related to the FAA’s qualification of check airmen and standardization of the training curriculum; electronic record keeping and digital signatures; inconsistent interpretation of regulations and application of OpsSpecs by FAA FSDO inspectors; security and the impact of presidential TFRs; illegal charter and the effect of per-seat charter business models; scammers trying to steal funds for payment of charters; and the IRS’s mistaken application of the federal excise tax to aircraft management fees.
“Everything we’ve discussed covers what we’re facing," said Waguespack. “We see [the town halls] as a group that can help each other."