By Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
Our nation’s COVID year has reaffirmed our national commitment to rise up against the challenges we face. That includes a renewed awareness of areas for improvement, accompanied by a spirit of resilience and innovation guiding us toward a brighter future ahead.
Throughout our country, communities of all sizes are supported by a national network of general aviation (GA) airports. These vital facilities support business activity, medical care, disaster relief, firefighting, agriculture, law enforcement and a host of important resources and services. GA airports also contribute to local economies and communities by supporting over 1.2 million jobs nationwide, providing billions in annual economic activity.
In 2020, as the pandemic grounded commercial airline activity, these local airports also provided critical lift for vitally-needed relief efforts in cities and communities across the U.S. Companies made available their business aircraft and flight crews to transport desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE) while volunteer pilots delivered badly-needed supplies to remote regions, like the Navajo Nation, stricken by the pandemic.
At the same time, business aviation OEMs like Bombardier Aviation, Honeywell, Textron Aviation and Rolls-Royce reconfigured their operations and production lines to manufacture ventilators, while even smaller, owner-managed companies dedicated their operations to sew urgently-needed face masks and produce other PPE.
Business aviation flight operations also transported COVID-19 tests to laboratories across the U.S. for expedited processing, with patients receiving their results as rapidly as possible. When the vaccines became available, our industry was once again ready to transport them to smaller communities and outlying regions of the country.
At the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), we established a dedicated COVID-19 resource at nbaa.org/coronavirus to provide our members with the very latest information regarding operational concerns in the pandemic environment, risk mitigation strategies, state- and national-level restrictions and government policies in response to the situation.
This resource also spotlighted the effects from COVID-19 on business aviation companies, as well as the thousands of ways in which we saw some of the very best of our industry rise up in response to an unprecedented moment in all our lives.
As readers of Expansion Solutions know, the pandemic also highlighted the urgent need to improve our nation’s transportation infrastructure. In addition to repairing crumbling roads and bridges in critical need of maintenance and lack of travel options throughout beleaguered urban areas, we must also ensure our national aviation system (NAS) remains at the forefront of safety, accessibility and innovation.
NBAA has continually supported initiatives, including the Biden-Harris administration’s infrastructure package now under consideration on Capitol Hill, to foster a stronger transportation system. At the same time, our industry has continued, despite the turmoil of COVID-19, to explore new, more sustainable methods of flight, while at the same time making business aviation more accessible than ever before to a wider range of users.
Advanced Solutions to Promote Greater Mobility
As noted before, business aviation already provides invaluable services to smaller communities, enabling the quick and efficient transport of products and services through use of local and regional airports typically underserved – or not served at all – by commercial airlines.
These important roles were joined in 2020 by a new audience who sought alternatives, including private aircraft charter and fractional ownership programs, to travel to regions locked down to airline service. Many of these travelers were also drawn to the higher levels of individual safety and control over social distancing provided by business aviation, compared to the airline terminal environment.
Over the last few years, we’ve also seen continued progress toward a multitude of technologies that, when realized, will lead to completely new methods of aerial transportation. Electric and fuel cell-powered aircraft now under development promise the ability to fly several hundred miles without any carbon emissions and more quietly than ever before.
These propulsion methods are also driving the development of advanced air mobility, or AAM. This is a new concept of air transportation using electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to move people and cargo between places not currently or easily served by surface transportation or existing aviation modes.
While AAM is often referred to as urban air mobility, or UAM, potential applications for this form of transportation extend beyond high-density urban centers. These aircraft, which will range in size from single-passenger aircraft to large shuttles, will also bring greater accessibility to cities, underserved communities and geographically distant regions.
Development of the necessary infrastructure to support AAM is underway in cities today, with AAM expected to become an increasingly important part of our transportation system in the next several years. These efforts also enjoy growing support from local officials and lawmakers, who have embraced the potential for quiet, accessible and sustainable travel that AAM represents.
This was demonstrated in a recent web conference sponsored by the Alliance for Aviation Across America that examined the many ways that general aviation (GA) stakeholders are investing in AAM and other sustainable transportation options.
“[AAM] aircraft are largely electric, and they can operate and complete trips in close proximity to where they begin,” said Michael Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “Workers will benefit from shorter commute times, and the public and our planet will benefit from a reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
Alaimo further noted that, in addition to its environmental benefits, AAM is expected by 2035 to be a $115 billion industry, “and support more than 280,000 high paying jobs and contribute a billion dollars in tax revenue.”
AAM is a transformative technology that has the potential to dramatically expand mobility options for all Americans and bring more equity to the country’s transportation system. The technology is also expected to bring new accessibility options to urban centers, connecting communities in ways that simply aren’t possible or economical by conventional intracity transportation options.
However, these benefits can only be universally available if the federal government embraces policies that provide consistency to infrastructure development across all communities. Earlier this year, NBAA formed a dedicated AAM Roundtable to assist eVTOL manufacturers and stakeholders with engaging in high-level policy planning with sector leaders, to chart a course for the integration of AAM technologies into the nation’s airspace and infrastructure.
Recognizing the importance of AAM and other exciting aviation technologies on the horizon, such as unmanned traffic management, supersonic flight and commercial space, in 2019 NBAA also formed the Emerging Technologies Committee to help NBAA advocate on behalf of industry on rulemaking, standards setting and policy-related activities by liaising with industry organizations and regulators in the U.S. and globally.
Bringing SAF to the Masses
As dozens of companies and thousands of industry stakeholders work toward this advanced future, significant strides have also been made in recent years to promote the production, availability and use of sustainable fuels and technologies that further reduce the already negligible impact from business aviation to global CO2 emissions.
These efforts are central to the industry’s long-established aim of dramatically reducing carbon emissions in the coming years. The COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated this debate, with studies and news reports showing dramatic emissions swings in aviation related to the pandemic and prompting the question of how to step up the pace of emissions reduction.
NBAA has played an integral role in promoting adoption of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) derived from any number of renewable feedstocks, both through our work in the Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Aviation Fuel as well as through highlighting the advantages of SAF at several NBAA events.
These include a 2018 Van Nuys Airport SAF demonstration event, in which area city council leaders publicly gathered to salute business aviation’s sustainability focus, as well as the 2019 edition of NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) that saw Las Vegas City Council leaders issued an official declaration supporting industry efforts. These efforts extend to the international arena as well, including by fueling aircraft transporting officials to the 2020 World Economic Forum with SAF.
While it’s important to educate those within our industry about sustainability options, perhaps the most significant work has come through engagement with elected and other civic leaders who are not directly tied to business aviation. These exciting developments and ongoing research into sustainable aviation solutions also makes this a fantastic time to be involved in our industry, as noted recently by Kansas transportation secretary Julie Lorenz.
“Never in our history have there been so many corporate, academic, state and federal agencies united behind the safe integration of new entrants into the national airspace,” she said. “Transportation really is a team sport, and there couldn’t be a better time to be in transportation.”
Experience This Exciting Future at NBAA-BACE
This spirit of innovation and sustainability will also be at the forefront through NBAA’s upcoming 2021 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) taking place October 12-14 in Las Vegas, NV in the all-new, state-of-the-art West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC).
In keeping with its unique importance this year in bringing our industry together once again, NBAA-BACE will feature a roster of impressive, dynamic and forward-looking keynote speakers and session presenters, as well as a large gathering of prominent business aviation OEMs, industry stalwarts and first-time exhibitors alike.
NBAA-BACE will also offer singular insight into the rapidly-evolving AAM industry across many events and channels, including with the largest display of AAM vehicles yet seen in business aviation, along with an impressive roster of presentations throughout the show highlighting AAM concepts and solutions.
For example, the event’s Day One Keynote will feature perspectives from Dr. Martine Rothblatt, a pioneer in several fields and a leading innovator in AAM. Rothblatt is a director for Beta Technologies, developer of the ALIA electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle that has secured contracts with entities including the U.S. Air Force, Blade Urban Air Mobility, UPS and others.
The Day Two Keynote will include an AAM panel discussion featuring an informative, forward-looking discussion among several leaders of companies that are investing in mobility’s multi-dimensional future. On the exhibit floor, the new NBAA-BACE AAM Zone will showcase numerous AAM vehicles and technologies.
Sustainability will also be front-and-center at NBAA-BACE, including at the second annual Business Aviation Sustainability Summit. Last September, the inaugural edition of this event provided an important platform for the sector to demonstrate thought leadership in aviation emissions reduction and offered a roadmap for further catalyzing the production, availability and use of SAF.
Featuring a roster of virtual and in-person sessions featuring leaders in the Biden-Harris administration; top representatives from key agencies; SAF producers and suppliers; and other important stakeholders in this exciting field, the Business Aviation Sustainability Summit will serve as a seminal moment for our industry’s efforts to engage community leaders in the sustainability conversation.
NBAA has also partnered with leading medical services consulting firm CrowdRX to ensure NBAA-BACE meets the highest standards for attendee safety, without losing the character and camaraderie for which the event is known. Additionally, the LVCC has earned Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR facility accreditation by ISSA, the world’s leading trade association for the cleaning industry.
In marked contrast to the uncertainty we all felt this time last year, I believe our entire industry is confident of much brighter days ahead, as business aviation stakeholders worldwide embrace innovation and sustainability.
On behalf of the more than 11,000 member companies of NBAA, I also look forward to welcoming the Expansion Solutions audience to a truly one-of-a-kind experience in Las Vegas, where you may witness firsthand our industry’s bright and promising future.