Last week, Meridian sent a team of eight down to West Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) to represent the company at the first NBAA Regional Forum of 2016. Although the weather was a bit challenging with heavy rains throughout the South Florida region, the business aviation community was undaunted, and showed up in numbers to the event on Thursday, Jan. 28, as more than 2,200 people turned out for the event. With 120 exhibitors and 25 aircraft on static display, the event set an attendance record for NBAA’s South Florida forums.
Florida state Sen. Maria Sachs who represents the Palm Beach area, welcomed attendees to her state, noting it’s first in the country for aircraft manufacturing – and officials plan to work hard to stay on top through tax and other initiatives.
NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen agreed, “Florida is a great place for business aviation,” adding that the industry “has a bright future in this country and around the world.” However, he said, business aviation is facing an attack from those in Congress looking to create a privatized ATC system, funded by user fees, as part of the debate underway in Washington over reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. Such proposals, Bolen noted, could severely limit business aircraft operators’ access to airports and airspace.
Many airlines, Bolen explained, want a system governed by a private entity, rather than the federal government, and that won’t work for business aviation. “This is a fundamentally flawed concept,” he said.
“It’s an effort by airlines to gain control and operate [the ATC system] for their benefit,” Bolen said, noting that the vast majority of airports in this county are not served by airlines. It’s business aviation, he said, that provides access to small communities around the country, and is responsible for more than 1.1 million jobs in the U.S.
Bolen urged attendees to contact lawmakers using NBAA’s online Contact Congress tool, and make their voices heard on the issue. “We’ve got to make our voice heard, let’s do that today,” he said. “Our concern is this can move forward so fast, it could be over before you see the details.” View NBAA’s online Contact Congress resource.
Many exhibitors praised the regional forum as an essential event for meeting new and current customers.
“It’s very helpful for us to have a presence here, said Corey Hanlon, marketing and community relations coordinator for New Jersey’s Morristown Airport. “It’s important to let people know that in the New York/New Jersey area there are several [airport] alternatives.”
Ivette Pla, director at Jetex in Miami, FL, agreed. “The regional shows are important because the regional flight departments don’t make it to the bigger shows.”
“It’s been very good, there’s a large amount of traffic from a lot of the operators I deal with,” said Brian Sprecher, Southeast regional sales manager with Constant Aviation. “At these shows I can see 30 operators in a day. I can have a lot of face time with a lot of operators in a short amount of time.”
The importance of NBAA regional forums also extends to the future of the industry, with students from nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and elsewhere coming to talk with attendees and exhibitors and learn what business aviation may offer them in terms of career options.
Also, at PBI, ERAU graduate Shaeta Waiz, a pilot, debuted the Beechcraft Bonanza airplane she will be piloting in her attempt to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Waiz’s journey kicks off June 2 from Daytona Beach, FL, and the planned 90-day trek is slated to include 35 stops on five continents, with events on each designed to empower young women to pursue STEM (science, technology engineering and math) education and “soar.”
“It’s an opportunity for young women to come together and share their successes,” said Waiz, who was born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan. “I want this to shed hope and give others some inspiration.”
The other NBAA regional forums for 2016 will be held June 9 in Van Nuys, CA, and Sept. 15 in White Plains, NY.