By Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
Business aviation is a vital industry throughout the U.S., not only for the companies that utilize its flexibility to compete in the global marketplace, but also for communities that rely upon business aviation as an indispensable lifeline to connect them to the world. For more than 70 years, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has advocated on behalf of these distinct, but closely-related, interests.
The vast majority of companies that rely on business aviation are small and medium-size companies, many of which are located in towns far from America’s major metropolitan business centers. These enterprises depend upon business aircraft, operating from community airports, to remain connected and competitive.
Simply put, when a company needs to reach clients, manage far-flung facilities, or seek out new opportunities, business aviation isn’t just the most prudent option – it’s often the only option.
That said, the term “business aviation” encompasses far more than simply providing companies with operational freedom and flexibility. It also describes an industry that serves as vital lifeline to people in hard-to-reach communities across the nation and throughout the world, and regularly provides life-saving services to people in hard-to-reach communities around the globe.
Business aviation includes air ambulance services, flying medical patients in need of immediate, emergency care at local hospitals, and the transport of others to specialized facilities across the country. Schools, universities, postal services, homeland security, law enforcement and military operations, firefighting teams, and other government and private-sector service providers also utilize the industry to reach areas where commercial airlines don’t fly.
Throughout these multiple roles, a single factor remains constant: every aspect of business aviation relies upon small community airports, which are often termed general aviation or “GA” airports. These airports connect their communities to the world, bringing people and goods from communities to national and global markets, while stimulating local economic growth.
Of course, business aviation is not unique in its reliance on these facilities. One of our nation’s greatest strengths is the size, diversity, efficiency and safety of our aviation system, and these attributes would simply not be possible without a robust network of GA airports throughout the country.
That is also why one of NBAA’s most important advocacy initiatives is working to preserve and protect community airports that, despite their importance in the national air transportation system, are sometimes threatened by onerous restrictions, and even closure.
Maintaining Access to Smaller Airfields
From coast to coast, you can find community airports are under pressure from local officials that fail to understand their importance. NBAA has continually worked to ensure these important airfields remain open and accessible to general aviation operations, including business aviation.
For example, in 2017 the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of New York issued a permanent injunction striking down access restrictions for East Hampton Airport (HTO) on Long Island. This decision in a precedent-setting case for public-use airports nationwide resolved multiple years of litigation by NBAA and others.
The East Hampton litigation was triggered when the town implemented several restrictions for aircraft operations at HTO, including a year-round general overnight curfew and additional limitations on so-called “noisy” airplanes.
Also on the East Coast, our association has long worked to maintain New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport (TEB) as a key part of a national system of airports and airspace, despite a recent determination by a study conducted by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) calling for the eventual closure of TEB, in part over concerns of rising ocean levels attributed to global warming.
In Texas, NBAA has joined with the Dallas Love Field Pilots Association in working with Dallas Love Field (DAL) and city officials to mitigate the impact of upcoming landing fees for based aircraft, after the city recently announced a weight-derived landing fee for general aviation operations. Among the concerns raised is that the city used inaccurate calculations in assessing the value that GA operations already bring to the airport, including millions of dollars in revenue collected through lease fees and investments in airport facilities.
Continuing the Fight to Preserve Santa Monica’s Airport
Perhaps the most prominent battle over airport access is the ongoing fight to maintain business aviation access to Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) in Southern California, in the aftermath of a controversial January 2017 settlement agreement allowing Santa Monica officials to curtail aviation operations at SMO, and which grants the option to close the facility after 2028.
Earlier this year, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia panel denied on procedural grounds a petition filed by NBAA and other airport stakeholders that sought to overturn the controversial agreement. Petitioners had asserted the FAA exceeded its authority in reaching the settlement agreement, and defied requirements established by Congress for judicial review of agency decisions carrying the weight of a final rule; however, the panel determined the settlement agreement did not constitute “final agency action” that was reviewable by the D.C. court.
Despite that setback, NBAA is continuing to pursue all available options towards keeping SMO open. We also feel we have a duty to stand up when we believe the FAA has exceeded its authority, and to ensure the court understands that the FAA and other government agencies cannot be shielded from judicial review.
In late July, NBAA joined with other stakeholders in filing an “en banc” petition asking for rehearing of petitioners’ arguments by the full court. NBAA also filed a separate complaint in the D.C. district court seeking a ruling that the FAA acted beyond its jurisdiction in reaching the original 2017 settlement agreement, and further asserting the agency did not follow established procedures in reaching its determination that keeping SMO open was not “necessary to protect or advance the civil aviation interests of the United States.”
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.