By Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
The business aviation community consists of companies of all sizes that rely on many different types of aircraft – from single-pilot airplanes, to turbine aircraft that fly internationally, to helicopters that survey rush-hour traffic – and the fixed-base operations and many other services that support flight operations at the nation’s 5,000 public-use airports.
The majority of these businesses – an overwhelming 97 percent – are small- to mid-size companies, and other entities such as nonprofit organizations. No matter how large or small, these companies all depend upon business aviation to provide flexibility and security that are increasingly necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
That said, business aviation’s contributions extend beyond the direct benefits to U.S. companies. This industry helps generate $219 billion annually in economic activity, and supports 1.1 million stable, high-wage jobs in this country alone.
Just as the aviation industry serves a multitude of important roles in the U.S., every aspect of business aviation depends on thousands of smaller community airports in countless towns across America. These facilities often lack commercial airline service, making business aviation a vital transportation lifeline to locations across the nation and throughout the world.
Business aviation is not unique in relying on these facilities; indeed, one of the nation’s greatest strengths is the size, diversity, efficiency and safety of the aviation system, and these attributes would simply not be possible without a robust network of small airports throughout the country.
However, in 2017 this robust aviation network – and the industry’s continued, largely unrestricted access to it – has been challenged by a plan on Capitol Hill to privatize air traffic control (ATC) services in this country.
Potential Access Restrictions
The notion of privatizing ATC is not new; in fact, for decades it has been pushed by large airlines. In 2017, these efforts were newly emboldened by ATC-privatization proponents in Congress, as well as support from the Trump administration to hand authority of the nation’s airports and airspace to a private entity, as part of a larger measure in the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize funding for operations and programs for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Under that proposal, the ATC system – which is a natural monopoly that currently serves the public’s interest, and is overseen by the public’s elected representatives in Congress – would be turned over to a non-governmental entity effectively controlled by the airlines.
Privatization raises a host of questions, not just among aviation stakeholders, but also among congressional lawmakers from both political parties, mayors from across the country, organizations from the political left and right, business leaders, consumer groups and a majority of Americans.
Another concern is how privatization would take the public’s elected representatives out of the equation, handing this vital oversight role to a group of individuals unaccountable to congress. That creates the very real possibility that access to the nation’s airports and airspace could become restricted, and that the private entity could be empowered with a taxing authority.
NBAA Mobilizes Against Privatization
From NBAA’s work on Capitol Hill garnering support to preserve congressional oversight of the nation’s airspace, to producing a variety of resources for business aviation stakeholders to utilize in calling on their elected officials to oppose this controversial measure, NBAA has been at the forefront in efforts to counter the plan of privatization.
Following the introduction of an FAA reauthorization measure in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2997) that includes privatization of ATC, a diverse, bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers formed in opposition to many aspects of the controversial plan.
They were joined by elected officials across the country – including 100 mayors from communities of all sizes – who also spoke out against the matter of turning control over the nation’s airports and airspace to a private entity.
NBAA’s shared general aviation community also came together in a coalition of more than 100 aviation organizations in signing a letter urging lawmakers to resist efforts to privatize ATC. These efforts were bolstered by more than 100 CEOs, who sent letters to U.S. House and Senate leaders to weigh in on the issue.
Additionally, NBAA called directly upon its more than 11,000 Member Companies to make their voices heard in strong opposition to any legislative proposal that would strip congressional oversight of the nation’s airports and airspace in favor of a private entity.
NBAA also deployed numerous resources for business aviation stakeholders to utilize in expressing their concerns about ATC privatization, including NBAA’s online Contact Congress resource, which allows industry representatives to weigh in against H.R. 2997 with their elected representatives.
Concerned citizens could also tweet their representatives to oppose H.R. 2997, using a dedicated hashtag (#NoPrivatizedATC) reminding these officials that the nation’s airspace belongs to the public and should be run for the public’s benefit, not a few special interests. NBAA has also deployed a toll-free action line (1-833-GA-VOICE) for people in the business aviation community to directly contact their local Congressional offices, with suggested talking points.
NBAA’s diverse and vital business aviation community remains committed to working with Congress to promote targeted, forward-thinking initiatives that preserve America’s aviation-leadership position and ensure the ATC system continues to serve all Americans in the decades to come.
NBAA-BACE Offers an Opportunity to Learn More
The critical matter of ATC privatization, as well as other matters of interest and concern throughout the business aviation community, will be at the forefront of discussions during NBAA’s annual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) coming to Las Vegas, Nevada this October 10-12.
More than 27,000 industry leaders from across the globe will come to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) to examine the latest products and services and discuss the latest issues affecting the aviation industry. Over 1,100 exhibitors will be on hand, showcasing their products and services to this diverse international audience.
NBAA-BACE will also host sessions on topics of interest to business aviation operations across the globe, including discussions about the emerging market for supersonic business aircraft; the expansion of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations; preserving access to local airports; and methods for the industry to meet ongoing personnel challenges.
As with all NBAA events, safety will also be a top focus area during the event. Returning to NBAA-BACE this year will be the Single-Pilot Safety Standdown, showcasing the most effective safety strategies for single-pilot operators, and the National Safety Forum, addressing a variety of perspectives on today’s most pressing safety issues.
NBAA-BACE will also feature a comprehensive lineup of fixed-wing business aircraft, of all types and for all missions, on display at nearby Henderson Executive Airport (HND) while more than a dozen light business aircraft and rotorcraft will be displayed at the indoor static display on the LVCC exhibit floor.
Of course, NBAA-BACE will also feature an impressive roster of featured speakers. NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen will welcome several distinguished leaders to the event’s Opening General Session on Tuesday, October 10 to discuss the current state of the industry, while astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly will be among the featured presenters during the Second Day General Session on October 11 that will also include presentation of the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s annual Combs-Gates Award recognizing efforts to preserve aviation history.
The exhibit floor will again host the Innovation Zone, which will feature several education sessions on the latest hot topics of interest to those in the business aviation industry. College and university students are invited to sit down with business aviation professionals to learn about career paths at Careers in Business Aviation Day on October 12.
If you wish to learn more about business aviation, and on behalf of the nation’s robust and diverse business aviation community, I invite the Expansion Solutions readership to join us in Las Vegas this October, where the size and scope of our vital industry will be on proud display.
Bio: Ed Bolen has been president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) since September 2004. Prior to joining NBAA, Bolen was president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for eight years. He has served on a U.S. Presidential Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, and a Presidential Council that made recommendations to government on national aviation planning. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Flight Safety Foundation and the Board of Directors of the National Aeronautic Association. He also serves on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of The National Academies.