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Going Direct: NBAA Opens With High Hopes But Real Concerns

NBAA 2018 Kickoff Press Breakfast
NBAA 2018 Kickoff Press Breakfast

At the organization’s annual NBAA Kickoff Press Breakfast, NBAA chairman of the board General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton and president and CEO Ed Bolen welcomed industry leaders and members of the press to the annual NBAA/BACE Convention in Orlando, Florida. Bolen, along with guests Phil Straub of Garmin and Pete Bunce of GAMA, expressed optimism for the industry, along with concerns for its future, all informed by questions about how changes in technology might affect that future.

The event is shaping up to be a big success, with more than 25,000 attendees registered for the show (October 16-18), more than a thousand exhibitors and more than a hundred of planes at the static display at Orlando Executive Airport.

During the kickoff event, Bolen shared that NBAA is celebrating a big victory, having played a big role in defeating the move in Congress, underwritten by the airlines, to privatize air traffic control. At the same time, he applauded the passage last week of a five-year FAA reauthorization bill, the first time in many years the FAA will be funded with any long-term vision instead of continuing resolutions.

But Bunce shared that one big hurdle the industry faces, and this is no secret al all, is the dearth of pilots to fly the planes that GAMA’s member companies are building, a situation so critical that Bolen floated the idea of Congress sponsoring a jobs program to promote aviation education and employment.

Predictably, the subject of ADS-B equipage came up, and Bolen mentioned that helicopters are in particularly bad shape, with just around 30 percent of them currently equipped for flight in ADS-B airspace, with the January 1st, 2020, deadline looming. When he suggested that operators need to get started on getting their planes into the shop, it was hard not to sense a level of resignation that equipage will not happen in time…what happens then, no one is discussing, most likely because there aren’t any good answers.

Pete Bunce made a chilling observation during the presentation, as well, when he observed that while it pains him, because he is a pilot, to acknowledge the fact that automation might help ease the pilot shortage in as little a time as five years. He didn’t say it out loud, but the message was clear. The days of fewer pilots in cockpits is coming sooner than we might know.

Bolen mentioned drones, and cockpit automation, and the new urban aerial mobility movement to underscore how aviation will be changing and it’s to us to keep up.  As Bob Dylan observed more than a few years ago, and it holds true for business aviation, “The times they are a changing,” and as a wise man once said, time stands still for no one, and no organization. We live in interesting times. They will only get more interesting in the years to come.


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