Proving Ground

March 15, 2018
How a professional event can teach you a lot about what matters to its host

In last month’s AMT Magazine, I shared my rubric for making event attendance “worth your while.” Before you dig through your back editions to find the piece, let me summarize: Fill your professional calendar by starting at the end and determine what you need to get from attendance.

Once you get to the event, whichever you choose, there’s obviously plenty to learn. Valuable discussions on business matters, presentations on regulatory compliance, grassroots action for legislative advocacy – at panels, plenary sessions, cocktail parties, luncheons, and dinners, you will find a full menu of professional opportunity.

There’s something else important you should learn: What matters to the event host? Other than holding your attention and convincing you it’s worth coming back, what does the organization putting on the party really care about?

As you read this, dozens of aviation maintenance leaders are preparing to descend (or are already descending) on Washington, D.C., for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association’s 2018 Annual Repair Symposium. If you’re one of them, your time will be well spent. You’ll build relationships with policymakers, have an impact on key pieces of aviation law, and get face time with a collection of international regulators (If you’re not with us, you can follow along or catch up at

For an association, an event should be a microcosm of its larger value to the professional community it serves. With ARSA, regulatory insight is a must – access to experts in compliance issues is a core value presented to its members. That’s why its annual spring event devotes two days to discussions with regulators (including representation from all four members of the international “quadrilateral” group: the FAA, EASA, ANAC, and Transport Canada), question and answer sessions, and presentations on issues that matter when dealing with a government.

From the foundation of this expertise, ARSA’s value sprouts into advocacy. Understanding the intersection of business and government – the credo of the association’s management firm – demands the effort of putting it into practice industrywide. Through lobbying on Capitol Hill, letters and petitions to the FAA and other international regulators, and participation in industry events, stakeholder meetings and forums, the association tries to serve the entire maintenance community by making sense of the rules and reigning in the rulemakers. During both the Executive to Executive Briefings and Legislative Day portions of symposium week, this focus is put into practice for the mechanics, engineers, quality managers, and executives who spend time face-to-face with government officials and lawmakers.

The fundamental requirement of advocacy is knowledge. Making change means understanding how things currently are, what’s missing and how to strategically walk a government agency from here to there. It also requires making the best use of the “right now” for the sake of good safety and good business. So, from that core of knowledge and through the lens of proactive advocacy, the association’s training program was born. At the symposium, the association taps directly into the regulators for guidance and instruction on SMS and other oversight matters (and helps you knock out some IA Renewal credit).

In each of these areas, ARSA’s work is supplemented by tools and resources. The association’s team has produced grassroots advocacy kits, model manuals, supplements, and issue papers to provide its members with ways to be their own experts and advocate their own issues and foster their own knowledge. Connecting these efforts to the central focus of the association produces a more powerful voice.

Through these activities and resources, an event – for ARSA, its Annual Repair Symposium – becomes a medium through which members, allies, and attendees transform into an active part of the organization’s work. Why? If the business of a professional association is to serve its members, why involve them so directly? If the purpose of the central body is to speak as an industry’s voice, why ask that industry’s members to use their own voices in the name of the collective?

In one of her regular “Sarah Says” columns, which avid readers of ARSA’s hotline member newsletter know well, Executive Director Sarah MacLeod explained the answer. In her August 2015 viewpoint, MacLeod considered the association’s moniker as “the voice of the aviation maintenance industry”:

“It’s a fair – and often repeated – illustration of the association’s role on behalf of repair stations: the body that will speak truth to power. When it engages regulators, legislators, or bystanders, ARSA elucidates the perfect intersection between business and government. One voice. One message. One purpose.

“In reality, though, ARSA is not a single voice. It can’t be; a lone note is clear but it’s also easily lost in the cacophony of talking heads and blowing wind in the halls of government. To be successful, ARSA is a conductor of voices – yours.”

At an industry event, whether run by a trade association, media organization, government agency, business group, or other stakeholder body, the purpose should always be to conduct the voices of participants into a shared purpose.

Hopefully you were able to make it to the nation’s capital with ARSA, but no matter where you land, demand that the groups to whom you give support use it wisely.

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.

About the Author

Brett Levanto

Brett Levanto is vice president operation for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA). He graduated from the George Washington University in 2004 and earned a Master of Public Policy from the College of William and Mary in 2009. For more information visit