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Five Questions for New NBAA Chairman Ron Duncan

October 24, 2013

The Association caught up with newly elected NBAA Chairman Ron Duncan, president and CEO of General Communication, Inc. (GCI), Alaska’s largest telecommunications provider, to hear his thoughts on NBAA, its Convention and NBAA’s advocacy and education efforts. Having served as an NBAA director since 2005, Duncan began his term as chairman at the NBAA 66th Annual Meeting held on Oct. 23 in Las Vegas, NV.

Q. What are your goals for your term as NBAA chairman?

Ronald DuncanA. I’m taking over a great organization. Dick [Shine] has done a fantastic job and we’re in great shape. So my fundamental goal is to continue the success that we’ve had on all fronts, particularly the public advocacy front. We’ve been amazingly strong there and that’s key for the Association.

I’d also like to continue strengthening our relationships with the other general aviation associations. Our industry, particularly the business aviation segment, but including all aspects of general aviation, is under attack from those who don’t understand the importance of our role in the economy and our transportation system. A common vision and a unified defense across all of our associations, so not just NBAA, but also organizations like AOPA, GAMA, HAI, EAA and NATA, is essential to our continued success.

Looking long term, we need to continue adapting to the increased international nature of our business. In many ways the heart of business aviation is expanding well beyond the U.S. – to the international front – and we have to be sure we adapt to that as an association. What we’re doing in Asia with ABACE [the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition] is critically important, and I want to be sure that we continue to have success in the international arena.

Q. What would you say is the Association’s most important role in the industry?

A. The Association is built on four pillars – advocacy, education, safety and service – and we have to do all four of those very well in order to succeed. Personally, I tend to put advocacy at the top of my list, just because if we’re not allowed to use the system, then none of the others really matter. But that’s true for each of the others as well. If we don’t fly safely, we’re going to get shut out of the system. If we don’t educate and provide a future work force, we’re not going to be successful. If we don’t serve our Members well in support of their day-to-day operations, then we won’t continue to exist as an association.

You can’t pull any of the four legs out from the chair or it will topple.

Q. Can you talk about your view of NBAA’s advocacy efforts, and do you think we’ve been successful?

A. We’ve been unbelievably successful. We’ve won just about every battle we’ve engaged in the last several years. We may have been too successful in that we’ve raised both our own expectations and the expectations of others a little too high.

We beat back a big push on user fees, we got the Congress to reinstate the BARR program, we were successful in achieving our goals in the FAA reauthorization, we managed to get the towers reopened under first round of sequestration and we have held off being singled out for changes in our depreciation schedule. We have also been extremely successful working with our sister associations to help establish and build the General Aviation Caucus in the House and Senate. Today, more than half the members of the House of Representatives and 40 percent of the Senate belong to the General Aviation Caucus. We are also engaging successfully with our Members on state and local issues.

Realistically, we can’t continue to win 100 percent of our battles, but we do certainly have to win the ones that are key for our ability to use our aircraft. NBAA and its Members have developed an infrastructure that gives us the opportunity to fight and win.

The Association did all that it possibly could do in regard to pushing the FAA to reopen the Aircraft Registry during the federal shutdown. This was a case where the problem was much bigger than our interests. In the shutdown, there were and are lots of people who are seriously hurting. Our issues are vitally important to us and the Association represents them very well, but there are a lot of other industries as well. We needed policymakers in Washington to put aside their differences and move our country forward.

Q. What is NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition’s role in the industry?

A. This show is “the” show. It’s always a fantastic event. For starters, it’s a fantastic experience. It brings the industry together and helps to focus us on a common agenda. It’s still the largest of all the business aviation shows in the world and it gets great international attention. It’s just a spectacular event.

The general sessions are a great way to start each day. I also learn a lot just walking around the convention floor. I have an airplane and I’m concerned about how I’m going to meet all the new requirements for operations in international airspace and the like, and going around and talking to the vendors and trying to get updates on all of the new technology that’s coming out is very useful. There are a lot of great education sessions, and my favorite is always the static display – that’s where it all comes together and it’s fun to walk around out there to see and touch what’s brand new and to dream about what you’d like to have.

Q. Education is a major part of the Association’s mission – from the CAM Program to Professional Development Program courses, to Regional Forums and other events offered throughout the year. Why is it so important to provide these opportunities to the industry?

A. When we talk to our Members, one of the things we hear is that the biggest challenge they face is finding talented, qualified people. We hear of manufacturers selling airplanes to people who can’t find qualified crews to fly them, who can’t find qualified techs to support them and who can’t find qualified dispatchers. I think continuing to support the development of the people in the industry may be one of the most important things we do.

Without a strong, well-educated and up-to-date workforce, we’re not going to be as productive as we need to be. It’s an industry that moves very, very rapidly – both literally and figuratively. The regulations, the technologies and the opportunities are always changing. There are always updates to procedures. Whether you’re concerned about the tax consequences of aircraft ownership, the regulatory structure, international operations or the latest in training and safety, you need a place where you can bring people together and the Convention is a piece of that, but it’s not just the Convention. It includes all of the seminars and other events that NBAA does throughout the year. I’ve been to a number of those and the turnout is always great, the questions are probing and it’s obvious that there is a very enthusiastic force of people in this industry who want to stay on top of their game. That’s a big piece of what the Association provides.

Anything we can do to get more exposure to young people is critical. We know that there is a pilot shortage. You talk to the folks at AOPA and they’re most worried about the fact that the pilot population is diminishing. Too many of the pilots we have are old folks like me. While we’d like to, we can’t keep flying forever. Without new pilots, techs and support staff, we’re not going to be able to keep the aircraft flying.

Bringing new people into the industry and showing them all the great things the industry has to offer as a career is very, very important. This year, on the third day of the Convention [Oct. 24], we are hosting our largest ever Careers in Business Aviation Day.

Not everyone we reach out to will end up with a career in aviation, but providing young people a positive exposure to our industry is important in other ways as well. Making people aware of what business aviation does tends to produce more supporters in the long run. The overall general level of support for our industry, and the number of people who have a positive perception of private aviation, is critical to our future.

Biography of Ron Duncan

NBAA’s new chairman, Ron Duncan, is one of the founders of General Communication, Inc. (GCI), Alaska’s largest telecommunications provider, and has been president and CEO since 1989. Prior to starting GCI, Duncan founded and was president of an Alaska-based cable television company.

Duncan received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He holds a commercial pilot’s license with SEL&S and MEL ratings and is type rated in CE-560, IA-1125, G-100 and CL604 aircraft. In 25 years of flying, Duncan has accumulated 8,000 hours, more than half of which are in turbojets.

View the full NBAA Board roster.