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At Mid-Year, Business Aviation Outlook Remains Challenging

By Ed Bolen

When 2009 began, I noted in this space that business aviation was braced for a perfect storm: an economic slowdown causing declines in fuel consumption, flight hours and employment, accompanied by a variety of potential policy threats, including onerous federal security proposals and renewed calls for user fees as part of the ongoing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization debate.

As we cross the midway point in the year, these challenges have materialized, and in some cases been exacerbated, by misperceptions about our industry.

For example, we know that the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) is guided by the erroneous assumption that security rules for the big airlines can simply be superimposed onto the diverse composite of companies that make up the business aviation community. If left unchanged, the LASP would be ruinous to many NBAA Member Companies.

Of equal concern to the TSA’s proposal are the passages in the Administration’s fiscal budget plan that appear to leave a door open to user fees for general aviation as part of FAA reauthorization and financing for aviation system needs. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that policymakers understand that user fees would carry a heavy administrative burden for thousands of small and mid-size companies that rely on an airplane as part of doing business.

While much work remains on both of these fronts, some progress has been made. TSA officials have communicated a willingness to discuss how to strengthen security while maintaining the flexibility and mobility that business aviation requires. We are also pleased that in recent weeks, some congressional lawmakers have reiterated their support for building upon the general aviation fuel tax – not implementing new user fees – to help fund airport and airway modernization.

Of course, a lack of understanding about business aviation points to the need for a sustained effort to increase awareness about what business aviation is, how it works, how well it serves American companies, communities and people in need, and the many jobs it provides.

Telling this good-news story is the point of the No Plane No Gain program. Launched in February and jointly co-sponsored by NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), this industry advocacy campaign educates policymakers and opinion leaders about the many ways business aviation is essential to America today.

The advocacy supplement that accompanies this edition of Insider describes the momentum that NBAA and GAMA are creating through the campaign. NBAA Members also are playing a major role in this effort, and as the Association continues to advocate on behalf of business aviation, our Members will remain our most important asset. Your voice and active participation help NBAA confront the public and policy challenges facing our industry. We thank you for your perseverance and all you have done to communicate the value of business aviation.