By James Wynbrandt
“I wish I could tell you the war [of battling business aviation foes in Washington] is over, but all I can tell you is there’s a slight ceasefire,” said representative John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee and prime architect of this year’s passage of the long-delayed FAA Reauthorization legislation, at the NBAA’12 opening session. “Some people just don’t get it that business aviation is one of the great economic engines of our economy and of a free-enterprise system.”
Ed Bolen, NBAA’s president and CEO, used the opening of the 65th annual Meeting & Convention to highlight what the organization is doing to win the war and he cataloged recent victories won despite the gridlock in Congress. In addition to FAA Reauthorization, the industry achieved reinstatement of the Block Aircraft Registration Request program, the Ex-Im Bank program for financing foreign purchases of U.S.-made aircraft and passage of the Pilots Bill of Rights.
The 2012 NBAA Convention is dedicated to the memory of Neil Armstrong, who served as one of the first three spokesmen, together with Arnold Palmer and Warren Buffett, for the current “No Plane, No Gain” campaign. The effort was mobilized to rally support for business aviation in the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent vilification of this segment. Bill Crutchfield, chairman of Crutchfield Corp. in Charlottesville, Va., has employed business aviation to fuel its growth. Crutchfield told attendees that while people understand the “plane” part of that phrase, many interpret “gain” as simply increased profits or efficiencies for those that use private aircraft. Crutchfield talked about viewing “gain” as what business aviation can do for communities at large. He cited the example of how he was able to establish a call center in an economically depressed corner of the state, ultimately drawing more corporations to locate call centers there, dramatically decreasing poverty levels and raising the quality of life in the region.
The upcoming presidential election received attention in multiple oblique references, with attendees keenly aware that the current administration has often been unsupportive of business aviation. Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, noted that the nation’s current 2 percent economic growth is insufficient to restore health to the business aviation industry. “Whether [one has] a D or an R on the jersey, we have to get back to between 3 and 4 percent growth,” Karlgaard said at the conclusion of his remarks.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), whose constituents include citizens of the Air Capital of the World (Wichita) spun the No Plane, No Gain message down to the grass roots level, talking about the importance of general aviation not from a jobs or operator’s perspective, but from the people in rural communities he represents that rely on it as their lifeline to the world. Yet in a state hard hit by the downturn in business aviation’s fortunes, he emphasized his faith that “the leaders of this industry are no different from those who came to Kansas almost 100 years ago” to create an aviation manufacturing industry. “This industry has had its struggles,” said Moran, “but like the Kansas motto, ‘To the stars, through adversity.’”