Business is Good, Leadership Not

As FBOs prepare to meet, NATA’s Coyne addresses concerns, opportunities.

Heading into the National Air Transportation Association’s second annual FBO Leadership Conference, it’s hard to ignore some big question marks hanging over the industry. But in spite of the presidential election and threat of recession, NATA president Jim Coyne says the outlook for business aviation and the fixed base operator community remains strong.

In 2007 the association split out its FBO and air charter membership segments, introducing the FBO Leadership Conference in conjunction with the Aviation Industry Expo (sidebar). It also hosted its first-ever Air Charter Summit, which is scheduled this year in June.

Comments Coyne, “We’re going to build on the success of last year.”

He says one new focus NATA will has is on the environment, with the newly formed environmental committee set to announce its initiatives.

“I think there’s one area where we, the FBOs, and the airports are going to have to work together — that’s in reducing our combined carbon footprint — as both operators of aircraft but even more so as operators of FBOs,” Coyne says. “That’s the newest thing going on — helping our members understand what is a carbon footprint [and] how do you determine what your baseline is?”

Coyne says airports will be increasingly feeling the pressure from their political overseers and passing that pressure onto their tenants. “The airport may have figured out ways of saving energy at their airline terminal; we’re going to have to show them we’re as committed in reducing our carbon footprint on our side of the airport. So it’s going to be an important initiative.”

“Our partnership with airports is going to be a much bigger part of this convention as we move forward than what existed at the NATA meeting three or four years ago,” Coyne notes.

“I think we’ve come to realize, and the airport community has come to realize, that we are locked at the hip. We are like Siamese twins. We are going to be, step by step, having to face the same challenges; we have the same economic opportunities; we have the same regulatory oversight; we have many of the same challenges in the environmental areas; and we’ve got to build support in our communities collectively.”

Upheaval in washington
Changes in Washington, from FAA to the White House, will have a big role in setting the tone this year, Coyne says. And he says the buzzword won’t be the politicians’ change but rather uncertainty.

“There’s just a big question mark over our industry’s future right now,” he says. “Hopefully our attendees will be able to leave getting some answers or at least some clarity to some of the uncertainty that lies ahead.”
Coyne is not optimistic about much getting done at FAA this year. “Within the FAA, I have said publicly that this is probably going to be one of the least productive years in FAA’s history. I have never seen it as rudderless as it is now,” he says.

Coyne points to the lack of a full-term Administrator and the gridlock on reauthorization between the House and the Senate as concerns. He notes that as time passes the likelihood of Robert Sturgell’s confirmation as FAA Administrator dims.

“We have a brand new Secretary of Transportation who seems more concerned about just airline congestion and trying to get user fees imposed than anything else, so we really don’t have any really effective management or leadership now in Washington on aviation,” he comments. “It’s dismaying because we have some really serious threats.”

A political year
The NATA president says he’s uncertain about the current presidential frontrunners as well. “It’s going to be hard for us to gauge where [probable Republican nominee John] McCain is going to go. When he was chairman of the aviation committee he was, it seemed to me, much more interested in helping the airline industry than he was in helping other parts of aviation. That raises a lot of concerns among our community as to whether he understands the importance of all the other segments of aviation.”

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