WAUKEGAN, IL — With more than 800 attendees, some 70 exhibitors, and 23 aircraft on static display, the National Business Aviation Association’s regional forum held here in August provided an opportunity for business aviation professionals to discuss the state of the industry, and plot out expectations for the future, with customers. NBAA vice president of operations, education, and economics Mike Nichols comments, “It seems that we hit bottom several months ago. Looking beyond 2010 into 2011, we will probably see some growth in flight hours ... and aircraft deliveries.”
Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian welcomed the crowd at DB Aviation at Waukegan Regional Airport, some 30 miles north of Chicago.
“I have watched this airport grow bit by bit over the years to the dynamic installation that’s here today,” remarks Sabonjian. “It is a wonderful economic engine for the city of Waukegan.
“Corporations like to be close to an airport that they can have easy access to, and that they can fly a long-range flight out of. Waukegan does offer that … and it’s about to expand.”
Sabonjian outlined a program in place to extend the airport’s major runway, allowing aircraft to carry more fuel and fly further; even to Europe without having to stop and refuel. “That is something that local corporations have been asking for for a number of years,” says Sabonjian.
COMBATING A TROUBLED IMAGE
Remarks NBAA’s Nichols, “ ... When the Big 3 automaker executives flew in to Washington ... that image didn’t show the true image of business aviation, and it caused a lot of damage. All of us in the industry have felt that impact over the course of the past 18 months.
“In fact, business aviation always has a backslide when there’s a down economic time.”
Nichols relates that, in an effort to respond to the image issue, NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s (GAMA) relaunching of the No Plane, No Gain ad campaign would come with a different focus this time.
“Rather than being the campaign that talked about purely the manufacturing base, this campaign has one clear message, and that is to explain that business aviation is essential,” says Nichols. “If it’s perceived as anything other than essential, it’s going to be harmed through legislation and through media, etc.
“Our target for this campaign was policy makers and opinion leaders. We know very well the strengths of our industry, but we haven’t always been great at talking about the value of business aviation. What we wanted to do with No Plane, No Gain is provide you with talking points.
Nichols highlights four key messages:
- Business aviation represents more than 1.2 million stable high-wage jobs;
- Business aviation provides service to small and medium-sized communities;
- Productivity — business aviation allows the capability to hit four cities in the course of one day;
- Humanitarian relief.
Paid advertising efforts under No Plane, No Gain have had an extremely positive impact, adds Nichols. NBAA took the opportunity at the Waukegan forum to announce the campaign’s latest spokesperson, Neil Armstrong.
Nichols also points to a study done by NEXA Advisers and released last year which looks at the S&P 500 for 2003 through 2009. “What the study found is that companies that use business aviation outperform non-users in key financial measures,” he says, resulting in greater efficiency and higher productivity.
Since the study was released, Nichols says he has fielded calls from member companies asking about financial measures for small and midsized companies that utilize business aircraft. “We are pleased to announce that we are working on a study, hopefully to be released in time for the NBAA convention, that does look at the small to medium-sized companies,” relates Nichols. “These are companies that have about a billion dollars in sales per year or less.”
Harris Interactive also updated a study for NBAA last year that found that small companies operate the majority of business aircraft, and that 75 percent of those companies have only one aircraft, says Nichols. The study also found that managers and mid-level employees are the typical passengers on business aircraft.
Says Nichols, “The worst is probably behind us. We’re seeing potential for recovery.”