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Ten Questions for Ed Bolen- the familiar face NBAA tapped to continue community’s success

Dave Higdon   |   1st October 2004
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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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Ten Questions for Ed Bolen- the familiar face NBAA tapped to continue community’s success

Sept. 7- 2004 marked a day of significant change within business aviation association circles – but one without radical change in the aviation community landscape. Credit for this stability within change belongs to the directors of the National Business Aviation Association- who hired Ed Bolen as the association’s new president and CEO.

Bolen came from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association- where for the past eight years he served as the head man of the industry group representing business and general aviation aircraft manufacturers. Nevertheless- Bolen is no stranger to members and staffers of the group representing operators.

Thanks to the hand-in-glove working relationship former NBAA president John Olcott shared with Bolen- Bolen’s face was as common and frequent a site as Olcott's during the six NBAA conventions that occurred during their joint tenures at the two associations.

Bolen’s presence each year at the NBAA annual meeting was highlighted by his joint participation with Olcott to present an annual ‘state of business aviation’ report and issues outlook to the gathered media during an opening-day breakfast. Taking turns throughout the presentation – and in the Q&A period that followed – Bolen and Olcott spoke authoritatively about the status and concerns of their respective constituencies.

Beyond that opening morning event- Bolen generally had no other official commitments at the NBAA convention – yet he remained throughout the meeting and participated in- or attended many other of its key events. It was in large part Bolen’s visibility at the NBAA meeting that gave him the most exposure to the aviation public in any given year- since GAMA itself stages no equivalent public gatherings of its 50-plus membership.

Elsewhere- Bolen and GAMA often shared platforms and positions with Olcott and NBAA before various lawmaking and regulatory panels.

Without question- few executives among general aviation groups better understand issues than Bolen- and only a handful of others in the industry are more closely associated with business and general aviation than he.

With NBAA’s year of turmoil just past – one president hired and fired- senior staff changes and unrelenting challenges on the table – the appointment of Bolen serves as a sign that a seasoned business aviation veteran again guides the association.

Of equal stature is Bolen’s hiring of Steve Brown to serve as NBAA’s vice president of operations. Most recently an associate administrator with the FAA- Brown has overseen the vast ATC resources of the agency- served as president of the National Aeronautics Association- and as a vice president of Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association.

Like Bolen- Brown is not only an aviation executive of considerable experience- but he’s also an active pilot – no small qualification in a world in which the health and viability of the operators and pilots defines almost everything.

With that as background- World Aircraft Sales Magazine wanted to ask Bolen 10 questions about the future of NBAA- the status of the business aviation community- and his outlook for the future.

Eight days after he assumed the reigns at NBAA – and less than four weeks before the association’s convention in Las Vegas – Bolen sat down and talked with us. He was only hours away from leaving to host his first public event as NBAA president- a REACHBAC event at White Plains- New York. Relaxed- comfortable and smiling- Bolen responded to these questions:

WAS: In what ways do you see managing a large consumer oriented aviation group as different from your job heading up a relatively small trade association?

Bolen: First of all- the staffs are going to have a couple of key commonalities – an intense focus on a limited number of goals; personal commitment to pursuing excellence; and an attitude of service to constituent or customers… In that- I don’t expect the move to be that radical a change.

We represented about 50 at one; we work for thousands at the other- but the core foundation of what we do remains the same.

That said- there are challenges that come in due to size. For one- reaching out to some 7-800 operators is a lot different than communicating with 51 members. The larger staff - communicating with them- is going to be different.

All of that is going to be a significant challenge – at the same time- it’s an exciting opportunity.

WAS: Many issues will understandably lap between GAMA and NBAA. What do you see as the main areas of commonality?

Bolen: The main issues in common are going to be related to: Access and the challenges to access; the security groups; the environmental groups; and from competitive sources (the airlines- mainly).

The commonalities are so much the same because the manufacturers sell the utility and are interested in the operator’s success to the point of working as equals to assure that utility through access – it’s a foundation for both of these two organizations.

WAS: Which three issues demand the most focus of NBAA and its staff as you come on board?

Bolen: Security is a dominant issue facing us today and it remains a daily focus.

Capacity is going to continue to be a challenge to work on – we’re seeing it pop up in some areas such as the slot changes proposed for O’Hare.

In addition- we continue to have educational challenges. The fact is that business aviation and its role in our transportation system and economy are not well understood. A lot of companies predicate their business plans on their ability to access places with business aviation- for personnel and just-in-time delivery of parts and goods.

WAS: What are the short-term management demands for you within NBAA?

Bolen: Our goals are meeting some of those challenges we have talked about- and become the kind of member-services organization our members want and deserve. What I don’t know now is whether we’re organized the best to deliver those services.

WAS: You obviously came to NBAA far more knowledgeable about its reason for being than others who might have taken this job- thanks to GAMA’s long-running partnership in so many areas. In what areas do you feel like you are just learning the ropes?

Bolen: NBAA provides such an extensive list of membership services- but even as familiar I thought I was with NBAA- the full extent of those services took me aback. So our goal is to make sure we’re doing that as well as our members deserve. However- the scope of the programs definitely surprised me a little bit.

WAS: With NBAA’s annual convention only a month out when you came onboard- how do you expect to spend your time in this new role as the head man compared to your years as a supportive partner?

Bolen: You want to talk about my role now before or during the Convention? (Laughs a little)

Obviously- I have more of a vested interest in watching the convention numbers now than I had as head of GAMA. Before- I looked at the numbers as a gauge of how vibrant and active our community is. Now it’s much more a factor in my association’s finances.

In terms of my time at the convention- well- for years we partnered on the industry report breakfast and afterward my role was pretty much over. I tried to remain visible- but I didn’t really have to talk. Now I look at my convention schedule and realize I have to be visible and vocal the whole time.

WAS: Looking outside the association at the world in which members operate- what do you hear most about from them?

Bolen: Restrictions; TFRs. They are something that played a role at the Republican National Convention. Teterboro Airport- for example: during the convention access was restricted and the rules banned helicopter operations into Manhattan. The problem is all over the country: Roving (VIP) TFRs.

If there is one thing I’ve heard a lot about in the past week- it’s these temporary flight restrictions and their impact on members.

WAS: Compared to your predecessors- you come to this post with far more recognition on Capitol Hill for your general aviation expertise and an insider’s knowledge of the legislative process. How will you apply that knowledge and expertise in your new role?

Bolen: I have seen a number of surveys done in the past and all of them- going back a number of years- show members want NBAA to be an effective force politically. So I will be on the Hill (Congress)- working for our members. I will be at the events and visible to the regulatory bodies- as well. That doesn’t mean I won’t be equally engaged in the operation of NBAA- but recognizing how high the priority our members place on political representation- I plan to be personally involved.

WAS: Your tenure at GAMA was marked with many significant achievements- among them expanding membership to international planemakers and stronger ties with operators’ groups. Was there any unmet goal that caused you to hesitate leaving?

Bolen: On a more significant- structural basis- I think GAMA is becoming a very powerful international force- and we responded by hiring an international representative (former FAA administrator Barry Valentine). Also- we maintained close contact with Ambassador (Ed) Stimpson (the former GAMA president now serving as the United States’ representative to ICAO in Montreal).

I think we still have room to grow as an international organization- in Asia and around the world. All of that suggests this is an increasingly international industry. I’m particularly pleased at how far GAMA has come during my tenure but I’m not sure it’s reached its full potential.

WAS: What single aspect of coming to NBAA has got you most excited and what one causes the most dread?

Bolen: They are probably the same concerns: The size and scope of the operation – it’s so much bigger and more diverse.

WAS: Thanks for your time- Ed- we’ll see you in Las Vegas. Meantime- good luck in the new post.

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