An Emphasis on Education

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Aviation Industry Expo and NATA ... a Time for Reflection, Redirection, and a Greater Emphasis on Education

LAS VEGAS — Change happens, and it certainly has occurred at the Aviation Industry Expo, at least as it applies to the audience of fixed base operators who are members of the National Air Transportation Association. The evolution of this event may, in fact, reflect what’s needed in the marketplace — a greater emphasis on training and education and connecting those in operations more closely to vendors.

A bit of history ...
NATA traditionally had a modest trade show and annual convention which attracted some 2,000 attendees annually. In the early ‘90s, as the FBO sector floundered, the association teamed up with the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association to combine the two shows in an attempt to keep it vibrant ... with mixed success. NATA subsequently entered into an agreement with Cygnus Expositions to take over operation of the trade show — in fact, selling it to Cygnus — and in time PAMA left the fold. Cygnus had acquired the GSE Expo and combined it with the NATA event, and unveiled the Aviation Industry Expo moniker.

[In the interest of full disclosure, Cygnus Expositions is a division of Cygnus Business Media, Inc., parent of AIRPORT BUSINESS.]

The moves led to a trade show event that attracted more than 4,000 attendees. The departure of PAMA was offset by the creation of AMTSociety, launched by Cygnus. Yet, decisions at NATA led first to the departure of many charter operators with the formation of a new Air Charter Summit held each year in June. And this year, NATA pulled its FBO Leadership Conference out of the Las Vegas event and teamed it up with the charter summit, impacting the number of FBOs in attendance. It also launched Education Week in line with the Expo.

The decisions made by NATA have left many in the industry segment with questions. The attempt here is to clarify NATA’s position and to help solidify a new direction that emphasizes training and education.

NATA president James K. Coyne admits that the association may not have explained adequately to its member community the reasons for its actions. Much of the reasoning centers around the business owners who are its members.

Comments Coyne, “The board wanted us to create more of a top management meeting separate from the trade show, one that focused on the owners of the businesses.

“We’ve got very different audiences; we’ve got owners of businesses and employees of businesses. The challenge for us was to create a venue for the owners that they wanted to come to.
“The leaders, as we call them, have a different set of issues than the broader employee world. Plus the owners are more interested in a lot of the Washington issues; government employees don’t travel as much as they used to. It’s so much easier for us to get the policymakers in Washington to come to a meeting in D.C.”

Coyne notes that NATA has in recent years broadly expanded its educational seminars and expects to continue that growth. He says the Expo is central to that effort.

“My vision for that slot in our year is to make it an educational opportunity for our members in one place, so they don’t have to go to a lot of different places,” he says. “My vision is to almost create an FBO University. Whether it’s line service training or HR training or issues of middle management, it seems to me that it will work better in a forum like that.”

Jill Ryan, senior group show director for Cygnus Expositions, explains, “Clearly this event has evolved into a multi-faceted services event — ground support, aircraft maintenance, and fueling (the process, not the product) and does a good job of displaying products for each of those segments. This is a unique niche among aviation trade shows and one that I think can be expanded.

“I think there is/can be great value to an Education Week — I actually like FBO University — provided we can put together a compelling program that will actually get managers and workers out of their FBO and to a conference.

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