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2006 NBAA INTERVIEW: NBAA president Ed Bolen answers ten new topical questions. Two years ago- Ed Bolen was the familiar fresh face at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Bumping into Bolen at EAA AirVenture 2006- though- it was as if Bolen had been at NBAA for years. He fits the role as well - the top lobbyist for the top group representing business aircraft operators and encouraging the use of aircraft by businesses large and small. Bolen logs tens of thousands of miles ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st October 2006
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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NBAA president Ed Bolen answers ten new topical questions.

Two years ago- Ed Bolen was the familiar fresh face at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Bumping into Bolen at EAA AirVenture 2006- though- it was as if Bolen had been at NBAA for years.

He fits the role as well - the top lobbyist for the top group representing business aircraft operators and encouraging the use of aircraft by businesses large and small. Bolen logs tens of thousands of miles annually in the service of his association’s members.

He’s got to know his membership and associate membership- and has achieved some of his many goals for his tenure – among them seeing Washington National Airport reopened to business aircraft traffic- albeit in a highly constrained manner.

The NBAA’s partnership events in Europe and South America now have an Asian counterpart – pretty much closing the loop on regional events. But the association’s signature event- the one that draws attendees in from the four corners of the globe- is still the NBAA’s Annual Convention – set for later this month in Orlando (see show preview on page 60).

Expectations of a bigger and better show are already high. Business is booming for corporate aircraft makers; order backlogs are the biggest in years; production lines are humming at or above capacity; mainstay planemakers are hiring in anticipation of stronger business in 2007- 2008 and 2009.

The first three VLJs could all be officially approved by the time Bolen cuts the ribbon to open the convention- adding further to the fleet mix and adding challenges for the corporate flying world. To put a little understatement into this- the 59th annual gathering of the NBAA promises to be as dynamic as ever.

So it’s with more than a little gratitude that we buttonholed Bolen for his third annual ‘Ten Questions Interview’ shortly before the start of the Convention in Orlando.

WAS: You recently challenged CNN for its 'biased' coverage of general aviation security and criticized the network for its failure to present anything resembling a balanced report; yet another sign that general aviation – and by extension business aviation – remains in the crosshairs with a lot of people in important positions.

About the same time CNN was inflicting its damage- lawmakers in New York State enacted new legislation requiring background checks and other so-called security steps for student pilots and pilots training for advanced ratings – turf that courts have ruled belongs exclusively to the FAA.

From NBAA’s perspective- is general aviation losing or gaining ground in the constant battle to thwart onerous- unneeded- redundant government constraints?

Bolen: I think a lot of the stuff in your question deals with a fundamental misunderstanding about general aviation and business aviation.

For too long we’ve allowed wrong-headed reporting to go unchallenged. Whether it’s on airspace- safety or other issues- this is an industry that is national and global in scope. So when you see legislation focusing on local or state security it ignores that the industry is global in nature.

We’ve been facing these issues on airports for a long time and I think we’ll continue to fight them. And we’re not going to allow erroneous statements about our industry to go unchallenged.

WAS: The FAA’s oppressive proposal to make the Washington ADIZ permanent seems stalled- but behind it is another proposal to require special training for any pilot from anywhere who might fly within 100 miles of Washington. My FAA sources claim both of these proposals are the result of pressures from the TSA and DHS.

Did the government make a big mistake splitting up some authority for aviation rules and regulations by seeming to give the two new agencies the power to overrule FAA – or- in the inverse- force the agency to enact rules despite the FAA’s better judgment and superior knowledge?

Bolen: Well- I think in order for divided responsibility to function effectively requires tremendous amounts of communication- and tremendous amounts of coordination. Anyone who’s tried to communicate within a family knows how difficult it is to get those things right.

We communicate daily with the FAA and work to make sure they understand the implications of their proposals. But it is a communications challenge.

WAS: The fifth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 has just passed- and many in general aviation are steeled against a new round of impractical- unworkable and budget-breaking proposals to 'secure' general aviation and business aviation. How does NBAA prepare for such obvious eventualities today?

Bolen: First of all- we try to make sure the security community and the press understand the tremendous security changes that have taken place since 9/11. The new programs we have for GA airports- the requirements of photo IDs- the matching of passengers against the terrorist registry.

It’s very frustrating to hear people say we haven’t done anything in GA – we’ve done a lot. We’ve had some hardening of security arrangements and some of them are hard to understand – like TFRs.

But we have to work to make people understand the differences between general aviation and commercial aviation and prevent the migration of onerous rules that aren’t workable from one segment to another. We’ve got to be very vigilant against these ideas. When they’re not workable- we’ve got to challenge them.

We’ve got to make sure the steps we take are sophisticated and workable. Saying something like 'No little airplanes in this airspace' is not very sophisticated and not very effective- for example.

WAS: Congress appears poised to pass legislation correcting last year’s ‘dumb-law’ award winner – the so-called fuel fraud law that directs aviation fuel taxes to the Highway Trust fund until the seller applies for a rebate on the higher highway tax rate and asks the funds be credited to the Airport & Airways Trust Fund. Will this corrective measure end the issue for business aviation – or will another step be needed as a follow on- to kill off this idea altogether?

Bolen: Getting this repealed has got a way to go. Unfortunately- it’s not a done deal. It’s in the Senate Commerce Committee; it’s not moved out of committee or gone to the Senate floor.

I will agree with you – it is a dumb law and inexplicable. It’s legislation by anecdote. Someone claims to have a picture of someone fueling their diesel car from an aircraft fuel supply with the implication that they’re avoiding paying highway taxes.

We’ve got to get this repealed. It’s burdensome- it’s onerous- it’s expensive and it can minimize our contributions to the Airport and Airways Trust Fund- which is not to our benefit.

WAS: With manufacturers churning out ever more business aircraft- the onset of VLJs right around the corner- and continued growth forecast- will business aircraft operators face their own problems in recruiting and hiring flight- maintenance and dispatch crews to fly- maintain and manage the growing corporate fleet?

Bolen: First of all- I’d say that high employment isn’t a bad thing. Of all the range of problems we could have- this is one we can embrace. But our community needs to have a higher profile and talk about the tremendous opportunities available in business aviation.

We’re trying to make people aware of the opportunities and support scholarships and training programs designed to develop the skills they need to make a career in business aviation. But we’ve also got a great product and we should be able to attract good- quality people interested in working in an exciting- rewarding industry.

WAS: While we have VLJs on the radar screen here- how to you see these new lighter private jets impacting business aviation use and popularity? And how about the even newer 'Personal Jet' category now taking shape in the form of Diamond Aircraft’s slick little D-JET and the as yet unseen Personal Jet Cirrus Design has acknowledged it’s creating?

Bolen: New aircraft models stimulate sales of airplanes. Certainly whole new categories of airplanes stimulate sales- and what they do is bring in new people to the community who weren’t there before.

How those planes are used- we’ll have to wait and see. But they’ve clearly captured the imagination of the public – that’s why we’re seeing so many news stories in the mainstream media generating more excitement about these new planes.

I think ultimately they will bring in new people to business aviation to the benefit of all.

WAS: After years and years of development- the deployment of both WAAS – now functioning – and ADS-B coming close behind signal the start of a new wave of advanced technology with huge utility for corporate aircraft operators.

Can we expect the business aviation community to quickly embrace these new technologies and their benefits – even as it adds another new expense for the aircraft hardware needed to use them effectively?

Bolen: I think the Business Aviation community has proven itself to be an entity quick to adapt to new technology. GPS – for example – is something the GA community clearly felt provided new utility and safety and was quick to embrace.

As these new technologies come on line to help us better communicate- navigate and aviate- the business aviation community is going to embrace them.

As we get more WAAS approaches out there- it will become a bigger attraction. And ADS-B is already generating its own interest. So I think Business Aviation will continue to be a quick adapter of new technology.

WAS: The August runway accident involving a Comair CRJ once again pointed up the potential pain of a simple- avoidable mistake – in this case- turning onto a runway unsuitable for a commercial jet. Is an accident like this justification- as some have suggested- for mandating in-cockpit runway alert systems like Honeywell’s- one that verbally announces to the flight crew the runway number and length?

Bolen: First of all- that was a horrible tragedy. The NTSB is still investigating it and we need to let that investigation play out. In the end- I think we’ll find that- like most accidents- it was a chain of mistakes that played out. But they are avoidable.

In terms of new technology- one thing we’ve encouraged regulators to do is to try to match the potential benefit to the costs of new technology requirements and see if it does make sense. Ground Prox and TCAS are systems where the analysis showed they made sense.

We’ll have to look at this the same way.

WAS: A year ago we touched on the latest push by the Air Transport Association – the airlines’ trade group – for a user fee-funded ATC- and the cooperation- concurrence and collaboration by the FAA in promoting the scheme. But word now from lawmakers on the relevant congressional committees is that user fees are dead for this year.

Is it possible that the issue can be buried once and for all or should we simply sigh and brace ourselves for more of the same push before the next Congress?

Bolen: I wouldn’t say it’s dead for this year; it may be dormant- but it is not going away. The airlines have a lot of energy behind this proposal- which as you know has them paying less and gaining more control. So it’s clearly not going away.

The reality that a bill wasn’t introduced this year shows our voice is being heard. But this isn’t over- one way or the other.

WAS: If you could do it- what issue would you most like to wave a magic wand over and end its play- permanently?

Bolen: Plugging through the user-fee battle is one I wish we didn’t have to do – it’s just a bad idea; it was a bad idea before- as well. It seems to consistently divide the aviation community when we have so many common issues we should be tackling together. But as you’ve heard me say before- 'In Washington- it’s really difficult to kill a bad idea.'

WAS: Thanks again- Ed. We’ll see you in Orlando!

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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