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2007 NBAA Interview:
Ed Bolen answers 10 topical questions.

Pretty much anywhere you see Ed Bolen these days- among his top topics – if not the top topic – is the FAA Reauthorization struggle currently underway. When he speaks to local aviation groups in D.C.; when he speaks to regional meetings out on the hustings; in op-ed pieces in national newspapers; even at the massive EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2007 a few weeks ago in Wisconsin– the rhetoric in favor of continuing excise tax-based funding is clear and unequivocal.

User fees are a wasteful system- fraught with hidden costs required to pay for buried bureaucracies – and with an unacceptable risk of those bureaucrats jacking up those fees without Congress’ approval. And these are not Bolen’s thoughts alone; virtually every imaginable group in and out of aviation – save the Air Transport Association- the Federal Aviation Administration and some knee-jerk free-market think tanks – supports continuing the current system of excise taxes… even at higher rates to meet expected revenue demands for modernizing the FAA’s air-traffic system.

However- user-fee opposition and reauthorizing the FAA are far from the only subjects of concern to the National Business Aviation Association- where Bolen is into his fourth year as president. Bolen and his staff know and act on those other issues- too. But in part thanks to early unanimity among the airlines and the confounding embrace of the airlines’ proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration- the user fees and FAA reauthorization have managed to command the jumbo share of attention- of smoke and light.

We caught up with Bolen shortly after he participated in industry panels at the Oshkosh fly-in and scant weeks before the opening of NBAA’s 60th anniversary convention in Atlanta- Georgia.

With three years under his belt as president of NBAA- Bolen has long since established his presence and defined his goals for the association. So we spent some time to talk about the FAA reauthorization struggle- the state of other issues- and the future of NBAA as it heads into senior-citizen status – not too old to play- but certainly old enough to know its influence.

WAS: Recently- you were among the throngs attending EAA AirVenture- Oshkosh- aviation event where you met with other association executives- the FAA administrator and the pilot public in a forum on user fees and reauthorization. Did you find the fly-in audience as adamant in their opposition to user fees as you’ve been preaching to business operators?

Bolen: Yes. I think the community at Oshkosh showed they were well-informed and passionate. I think that was reflected in the user fee panel. It was reflected in the questions they put to us - questions that showed they’d thought about both sides of the argument and come to their own conclusion.

On a hot day when it was hard to imagine more than four people sitting in tent and listening to this- we had a crowd and could have gone on much longer.

WAS: Has the aviation community at large responded as well as you had hoped? As well as is needed to convince Congress?

Bolen: Those are two different questions. Are they responding as well as we hoped? I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything from our membership as strong as what we’re seeing here. Thousands are responding from our member community; they’re joining the Alliance for Aviation Across America and making their voices heard.

Having said that- the challenge we face is nothing short of extraordinary. The airlines are as sharp- polished- and aggressive as anything I’ve ever seen. They’re well funded and have people handling the lobbying- the PR and the press- and the money to keep it up.

This is an unbelievable battle. They’re spending whatever they have to- to vilify general aviation. Whatever we’re doing- we need to do more!

WAS: Back during the summer- the Air Transport Association ran some animated ads that essentially put forth the discredited propaganda that general aviation is the cause of airline delays. Did the general aviation community respond as effectively to the target audience? Or did it satisfy itself that convincing lawmakers is a better option?

Bolen: I think it’s been a combination of both. The Alliance did run response ads- on CNN Airports cable-news network and in print in the Capitol Hill periodicals – The Hill and Roll Call – to counter the false claims of the airlines. So there was an appropriate response.

But the strength of GA is its grass-roots response- like those people you see at Oshkosh. These are people who care; they know the arguments and can argue effectively. We’re dealing with a very well-informed and motivated community and it’s up to us to use that asset.

As for the airlines- when they pull something- we call them on it. We’ve written letters to the airline CEOs when they put out misleading or outright false information. We know if their mistruths go unchallenged- people will think there’s some truth to what they’re saying.

We’ve also been all around the country meeting with the editorial boards of newspapers and their response has been good.

WAS: This year the NBAA celebrates its 60th anniversary during the annual convention in Atlanta. Can you give us some perspective on what the issues were that spurred NBAA’s creation in 1947?

Bolen: If you think back to ’47- WWII had just concluded; there were a lot of questions about the shape aviation would take in the future – how commercial would grow and where general aviation would fit. There was considerable concern that general aviation would be squeezed out of the airspace and out of airports by the airlines and their supporters.

There was concern about fostering a positive image for business flying- for promoting professionalism in business aviation operations to deal with concerns that people would perceive general aviation as unsafe. In many ways- these issues are still relevant today; airports and airspace access are still something the airlines would like to change.

Then- after 9/11- security became an issue. So some issues are new; some are the same. Business aviation continues to have to work for its place around the world.

WAS: How is NBAA’s work different now that it was 60 years ago- if at all?

Bolen: The industry has obviously grown and become fundamental to the business model for a large number of companies across the United States. So- we spend a lot of time visiting with our members- large and small- trying to understand best practices across the US. Then we sort out those best approaches- package them- whatever the subject- and distribute those to our members.

The advocacy issues remain real- as before. But today there’s a lot more media than before and we have to attend to all of it in its way. Internet- cable- newspapers: We are constantly changing and evolving how we deliver our message as the communications tools change. It’s a constant evolutionary process that at times can feel revolutionary because of the speed of change.

WAS: Recently – at Oshkosh- again – FAA administrator Marion Blakey announced welcome changes to the Washington ADIZ- eliminating the so-called ‘mouse ears’ and carving out space for Leesburg- to name but two. Did the ADIZ changes go far enough?

Bolen: Well- I think what we saw was- after 9/11- a swift and immediate – but crude – approach to security. An essentially no-fly zone was the result at Reagan Washington National and around the Washington Metro area. We’ve seen some of those crude methods soften without compromising aviation security or safety.

I’d like to see some more sophisticated approaches taken to retain the high level of security we have and still allow freer movement throughout the ADIZ. Our programs and AOPA’s Airport Watch program- for example- are our efforts in general aviation to come up with ways to keep things secure that don’t unduly restrict our ability to fly.

At the same time- the old way - a no-fly zone - is clearly not a solution; such changes aren’t the way we’d like to see things go. When we saw the lockout at DCA- we first saw things static- then improve- first with three airports available as gateways and now 21. That’s 21 down and about 4-979 to go.

Even now- out of 5-000 public-use airports- I’d like to reach a point where anyone can fly from any of those airports to DCA and make them just as secure as now with 21 airports. I think that can be done. We’re hopeful we can continue to work with TSA and see good progress in this area.

WAS: We also know that TSA is working on new suggestions for securing GA aircraft and airports- thankfully by first soliciting input from the people who fly. But in the end- will we be in for another fight when the TSA finally unveils its proposal?

Bolen: As a broad statement- we view our relationship with TSA as a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship. They’ve tried to understand the GA community- attended business aviation events and solicited input and worked with our input. Along those lines- we’re hopeful that their proposals will be something we can live with.

That said- we don’t understand security the way they do and I’m hopeful that whatever comes out will be something we can work out together- to still keep things secure and still promote GA.

WAS: The advent this year of the VLJ as an element of general aviation seems a ripe plum for several associations- none more so than the NBAA. How is the NBAA reaching out to the owner/ operators of these new business jets- and what do you expect their impact to be on membership?

Bolen: NBAA’s been working with the VLJ community for a number of years. As you know- we’ve had forums on VLJs at a number of our events over the years. We’ve worked with them closely; they’ve been exhibitors. And some of the work product we’ve done for the community has tried to make sure the advent of the VLJ community will be smooth – publications we’ve produced such as “Training Guidelines for VLJs and other Technically Advanced Aircraft-” and “Flight Department Essentials.”

We co-sponsored forums on VLJs in partnership with McGraw Hill. There’s been a lot we’ve done and continue to do to facilitate the VLJ type aircraft as part of the business aviation community. I think developments like the VLJ and new Light Sport Aircraft bring a lot of excitement and energy to the community. So we’re excited.

WAS: Not long ago NBAA members faced the need to equip for RVSM in order to retain full access to the National Airspace System; next up appears to be ADS-B- with hints that a coming NPRM will set 2012 as the date for mandatory ADS-B in Class B airspace and 2020 for the continent at large. Aside from the question of the added expense- do you have faith that the FAA can pull off the steps to make this happen in a useful way?

Bolen: ADS-B has been called the cornerstone of the Next Generation Air Traffic system. And it certainly is the technology people are talking about when they talk about the future of aviation in the US. There seem to be a lot of questions- though – and not just on the FAA’s timetable but on procedures and other changes that come with a major change in technology.

General aviation is familiar with ADS-B from our experience using it in Alaska for about a decade; we’ve been talking about it and our experience- so the FAA will have a rule-making committee that Steve Brown from NBAA will participate in on the transition to ADS-B. Anyone who looks at it sees its potential; but there are a lot of questions and procedures that need to be worked out to make it feasible.

Conceptually- there’s a lot ADS-B can do. From a system-efficiency standpoint- you may be able to get more-precise spacing on aircraft. If the spacing is supposed to be three miles and you’re using five miles because the equipment isn’t accurate enough- the move to ADS-B can help improve that spacing and thus airspace efficiency.

It can improve on monitoring surface-equipment movement and to help in security at airports. It can even help environmentally- if its use helps shorten routes and the time engines are running.

The challenge is- how do you make it work in the real world? What is the back-up? What are the fail-safes? We have enough experience with the technology to grasp its potential. But turning that understanding into procedures that work in the real world hasn’t been explained yet.

WAS: Are there any elements of any other aviation gatherings you’d like to see NBAA incorporate into its annual convention – but probably never will?

Bolen: There are a lot of great aviation events over the course of the year. We just finished in Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture 2007);AOPA Expo coming up in October has become an exciting general aviation event. The Paris Air Show and our regional shows- EBACE and others around the world are all unique. I believe these are among the best shows for their regions you could hope for.

I hope our upcoming Asian regional meeting will become that caliber. But each show has its own rhythm and feel; it’s reflective of the diversity of the community. That diversity is really- really positive. Every show- every event- should strive to be the best it can be. They should talk to the vendors- their visitors- adapt the best practices and do their best to make them grow.

Every year at our convention we try to do something different and better. We’re always surveying members to see if someone has found a better way to handle the challenges. We try to understand what works best and use it to keep our convention unique. We do customer surveys of our attendees or our vendors- and if they say they like the way something works elsewhere better- we don’t care where those ideas come from. We want to make our event the best it can be and that means being open to new ideas- even to the risk of failure- and keep working to make them feel fresh- energetic and positive.

WAS: Thanks- Ed. See you in Atlanta!

Ed Bolen and the rest of his staff can be contacted through NBAA’s Offices at: National Business Aviation Association- Inc. 1200 18th St.- NW- Suite 400- Washington- DC 20036-2527; Tel: +1 202 783 9000; Fax: +1 202 331 8364; Email: info@nbaa.org; Web: www.nbaa.org


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