As the new year gets under way, aviation professionals around the world are eagerly eyeing their calendars; the “busy season” of industry exhibitions, expositions, and conferences looms larger every day. As the northern hemisphere warms into spring and summer, an earnest event attendee (or required booth attendant) will log tens of thousands of travel miles in service of their company and industry.
If you’re participating in this circuit, you’ll come across Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) team members at a number of these events. When not providing training or leading discussions, the association’s staff walks the exhibit floor, touches base with members, makes new friends, and answers questions about aviation safety. You’ll also see plenty of the association’s member repair stations, manufacturers, and operators – businesses that routinely engage in the sophisticated act of building personal networks at industry events.
What you won’t see is the flurry of behind-the-scenes activity back at ARSA’s HQ in preparation for the association’s 2018 Annual Repair Symposium. The event, first held in 1993, was developed to provide the maintenance community with direct access to regulators as well as a network of insight from the many aviation-related groups working in the nation’s capital. In the intervening 24 years, it has evolved along with the association and the industry it supports: A regular stopping point for FAA officials and their counterparts from foreign NAAs, not to mention inspectors general and key transportation-related personnel from other federal agencies, the symposium is the intersection of the maintenance community and those responsible for its regulation.
Over time, the event expanded beyond its core regulatory focus to include a legislative day – a “fly-in” during which a charged-up group of members crisscrosses Capitol Hill sharing the good news of aircraft maintenance. This year, it will expand again: The ARSA team has used the formula from its successful Strategic Leadership Conference to produce a day of Executive to Executive (E2E) Briefings, during which industry senior executives will participate in meetings with senior executive branch officials involved in aviation and trade policy at the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, and State. Symposium week has come full circle in providing a full range of engagement between the men and women who keep the world in flight and those who pull the various levers within the U.S. government.
Obviously, my colleagues and I want every member of the aviation community to make time for ARSA’s premier event. Beyond the repair station world, the work we do for a week in March will touch every corner of the industry – each piece of the “regulatory chain,” as we call it. Maintenance, certification, career technical education, doing business with government, oversight, and inspections are all on the agenda. However, in the midst of such a busy calendar, each of us must make careful choices about where, when, and how we invest our time.
With that in mind, how can you prioritize where to place yourself? Start by determining the outcome you need from the trip, then fill your calendar with the stops that will produce that outcome.
Building business relationships? Seeking out new suppliers or customers? Trying to close a long-elusive deal with a potential partner? A special meeting scheduled during a large exposition – preferably in or around the beautiful floor display of one of the parties involved – will provide the right backdrop for your negotiation.
Developing personal or professional knowledge? Managing a challenging issue with your local inspector? Bringing a new product online but struggling with an approval? Sharing best practices about how to tackle regulatory compliance, workforce, or business development challenges? Find a content-heavy symposium or set of briefings featuring key officials and industry peers (and be sure to insert yourself into the question-and-answer period of the appropriate panel or talk).
Looking to generate good will? Need to produce media visibility? Want to connect your company with the spirit of the industry or cultivate the next generation of technical talent? Find a challenge, competition, or showcase and figure out how best to participate: field a team, construct a challenge, or sponsor an activity. A great example (and opportunity) is the Aerospace Maintenance Competition (April 10-12 in Orlando). You might also consider sponsoring a competition at your company between teams from local aviation and technical schools.
Your participation in an industry event is an investment of your time and your company’s money. There are lots of ways to make it worth your while. The key is to have a very clear idea of what benefit you want from your participation: new industry contacts, knowledge about regulatory developments and business trends, or heightened visibility for your company.
Of course, you can satisfy many (if not all) of these needs alongside ARSA … check out arsa.org/symposium to see for yourself … but I’m biased.
Brett Levanto is vice president of operations of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. managing firm and client communications in conjunction with regulatory and legislative policy initiatives. He provides strategic and logistical support for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.