Greetings From Washington

October 30, 2015

There are many exciting things happening at NATA so let’s jump right in.

NATA Purchases the Independent FBO Association (IFBOA)
As we prepare to celebrate NATA’s 75th birthday in December of this year, our future is bright and getting brighter every day. We all look forward to our next 75 years and the key to our enduring success will always be our membership staying informed, engaged and focused on the future. A key component of that continued success is our recent announcement that NATA purchased the Independent Fixed Base Operators Association (IFBOA). On January 16th, we announced a “strategic relationship” with the IFBOA. This gave both teams the time to work through the details of how the merged organizations would more closely coordinate and in some cases, integrate activities.

It is certainly a reasonable question to ask why NATA and IFBOA made this move. Fundamentally, IFBOA was very successful at building a growing organization that featured some highly attractive products and services for its membership—particularly its Workers’ Compensation Insurance product. Additionally, in conversations with many current and former NATA members, a consistent theme emerged of the perception that independent FBOs, not affiliated with a larger chain, did not feel their voices were being heard by NATA.

Over the last three years, NATA worked deliberately to address these concerns. Specifically, NATA recently teamed with AirSure Limited, whose proven track record at bringing highly desirable insurance products to our industry is unmatched. Next, your NATA board of directors actively recruited independent FBO operators to serve on the board to ensure NATA’s policy decisions strike the right balance across the wide range of our regular members. The purchase of IFBOA culminates a huge effort that is already bringing great benefits to all members. Read more about this move in the article on page 27 in this edition of the Aviation Business Journal. In short:

  • Together we are much stronger. Speaking with one unified voice in Washington and elsewhere makes NATA’s advocacy much more effective
  • We will retain the IFBOA brand and continue to bring tailored products, services and advocacy to these non-affiliated FBOs
  • For 2016, the membership dues structure will be completely aligned with most small businesses (under 11 employees) seeing a dues reduction
  • NATA’s board of directors remains committed to a highly diverse representation structure on the NATA board with small, independent FBOs continuing to provide a strong voice on independent business issues

Personally, I feel many in the aviation community are suffering from a bad case of “group think” that pillories both the institution of the FAA and its thousands of highly skilled and dedicated employees.  Others continue to draw false comparisons with countries that have modernized from, in some cases, systems with no or very rudimentary forms of aircraft surveillance (i.e. – no radars – and the attendant poor safety records).

All Hands on Deck
It’s an incredibly busy time in Washington and our lobbying staff is fully engaged in ensuring the process of Congress reauthorizing the FAA keeps aviation business interests on their radar screen. Bill Deere, our Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs, is leading the effort to ensure the House and the Senate fully understand the vital role that general aviation businesses play in their states, districts and local communities. Please be prepared to provide your personal support in reaching out to the key decision-makers as this process unfolds. These opportunities (and risks) come around about every 3-5 years and delivering a focused message to your elected representatives is key to ensuring we achieve the best possible outcomes.

The Value of NATA Membership
Aviation businesses join and retain their memberships in NATA for a host of reasons. Many of our members possess an understanding that no other organization in Washington is solely dedicated to “protecting and championing” the interests of aviation businesses in Washington. Others rely on our “gold standard” Safety 1st training products to ensure their businesses are achieving the highest levels of aviation safety available anywhere. And still others join or retain their membership for one of our other products and services like the NATA Workers’ Compensation Insurance Program or IFBOA’s much-heralded Workers’ Compensation Insurance Program. New programs like NATA Aviation Solutions, our new deeply discounted NATA membership shipping program with PartnerShip® and the Safety 1st Digital Emergency Response System continue to deliver value across a wide spectrum of member needs. Whatever the reasons are for choosing to join NATA, we will continue to adapt to our membership’s desires as our industry and members’ needs evolve. If you’ve got some new ideas, please call or email us with ways we can better serve you.

Our two most recent conferences are great examples of this needed adaptability. In June, we conducted a highly successful Aviation Business Conference in Washington. According to the feedback from those that attended, this was one of the most highly successful and relevant NATA conferences ever conducted. And the just completed Aviation Business Roundtable, with it’s strategic, policy-level focus for senior executives delivered great insights into key political, economic and strategic topics that will uniquely guide key decisions for senior business leaders in the coming months.

In closing, the entire NATA staff is committed to the belief that as your operating environments and businesses change in the coming years, your trade association must remain agile and adaptable to meet those needs into the future. As always, the key to our success is remaining focused on our members; thus, being engaged, communicating with our staff and letting us know when you see turbulence ahead is something that I ask all of our members to continue to be resolute about. This is your trade association and we continue to be on course and climbing!

Republished from Q3 Aviation Business Journal

FAA Legislation: Impacts to Aviation Businesses

June 26, 2015

Greetings from Washington!  NATA is heavily engaged in advocating for all of our members on serious and far-reaching policy issues rapidly unfolding.  It’s important for all NATA members to understand the critical importance of this advocacy because, as the Voice of Aviation Business, we are in a unique position to speak with clarity on issues directly impacting your businesses in both the short and long terms.

Without a doubt, the highest priority issue we are currently facing is the reauthorization of the FAA. The last FAA reauthorization bill was signed into law on Valentine’s Day in 2012 and is set to expire at the end of this federal fiscal year – September 30. This means that the FAA must once again be reauthorized by Congress to continue operations. For both industry and government, it is vitally important that such long-term legislation be enacted.

Bills such as these are important to all NATA members. The FAA reauthorization bill establishes policy direction for programs like NextGen and contains numerous other provisions intended to make it easier for stakeholders, like you, to interact with the FAA.  In fact, you will see (on the front page of our website) a document, “Major Policy Issues,” developed with the help of our NATA committees. Your input guides our work on this and other important pieces of legislation.

Just like your business, reducing uncertainty for the government enables a longer-term approach to capital investment and system improvements. Recall, the 2012 FAA Reauthorization was enacted after 23 short-term extensions. This is no way to run an agency charged with providing air traffic services and guaranteeing the safety of the travelling public. Add to this the effects of the 2012 government shutdown and the impact of the following spring’s sequester and you can see why ‘business as usual’ in Washington is fundamentally and negatively impacting what is unquestionably the world’s finest airspace system – bar none.

Of course, the impact of sequestration and the other ongoing fiscal fights between the executive and legislative branches goes beyond just aviation. It also encompasses spending for our nation’s defense, support for local law enforcement, Amtrak and poverty programs. Sadly, some deep-pocketed Washington insiders, many with little or no real world operational experience, have elected to use this situation to brazenly advocate for completely restructuring the FAA, proposing to create a separate, user-fee-funded, air traffic control system. Such a “solution” gives us great pause and concern.  As I recently told a Senate committee, general aviation would find itself in constant peril with the travelling public paying ever-increasing fees if an ATC corporation were to be established that is entirely funded via user fees and controlled in perpetuity by a board of industry insiders.

Personally, I feel many in the aviation community are suffering from a bad case of “group think” that pillories both the institution of the FAA and its thousands of highly skilled and dedicated employees.  Others continue to draw false comparisons with countries that have modernized from, in some cases, systems with no or very rudimentary forms of aircraft surveillance (i.e. – no radars – and the attendant poor safety records).

We also cannot underestimate the potential impact of separating air traffic from the agency’s safety functions.  FAA Administrator Huerta recently observed that breaking down stovepipes means close interaction between the operations and safety functions of FAA.  Turning the FAA’s safety organization into a solely regulatory body, including overseeing operational standards, would likely create potential unintended consequences that will undermine many of the efficiencies that would purportedly come from a new air traffic control structure.

Importantly, no one in the aviation community suggests accepting the status quo at FAA.  Like any large organization with an established bureaucracy, change at the FAA can be extremely difficult.  As I stated recently in the Wall Street Journal, “No one in the aviation community suggests accepting the status quo. The injection of private-sector practices has and will continue to greatly improve the FAA’s operating structure and performance.”

However, it appears almost deliberately unnoticed by some that the FAA is bringing online highly-advanced and improving technologies like the recently completed En Route Automation Modernization system and the build out of hundreds of new Automated Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) ground stations throughout the country.  Good changes to our air traffic system are underway and we need to keep the pressure on for more and faster change.

Fortunately, the cavalry is arriving.  Let me express my thanks to those of you participating in the NATA Aviation Business Conference.  While the thrust of the conference is on industry education and networking, the conference begins with an important day of advocacy on Capitol Hill.  Anyone in Washington will tell you, an association’s members are any industry’s best advocates before Congress.

Help us ensure we prevent this academic, sterile, and narrow policy effort from gaining any more traction.  Whether you are joining us in Washington or not, speak loudly, consistently and resolutely to our elected representatives. The power rests entirely within the existing system to fix this problem – we just need our federal government to operate in the manner in which the Constitution intended!

Republished from Q2 Aviation Business Journal

NATA’s New Aviation Business Conference – An Event For All Members

March 11, 2015


NATA’s New Aviation Business Conference – An Event For All Members

In June, NATA will host the inaugural Aviation Business Conference in Washington, D.C. This new conference combines the best of our previous Aviation Business & Legislative Conference and Air Charter Summit into one industry-wide event. The Aviation Business Conference provides important perspective, advice, access and information that directly benefit your businesses, including insights from key industry and government policymakers. A key feature of this event enables NATA members from each industry segment an opportunity to connect with one another and with their elected representatives on Capitol Hill.

The action-packed agenda includes sessions on the aviation business outlook, emergency response, social media and NextGen as well as sessions delivering information on the latest regulatory issues before the TSA and FAA. The conference also includes the popular Industry Excellence Awards Presentation Luncheon – an event to celebrate the best and brightest in the general aviation industry.

The conference kicks off with a panel of CEOs from general aviation’s leading associations, immediately followed by a Congressional Fly-In session at the U.S. Capitol. The aviation industry CEOs will share their insights on the current legislative and regulatory environment in Washington and set the stage for a successful Fly-In session with leading lawmakers. We are very excited to offer this rare look into NATA’s and Congress’ efforts on behalf of our industry.

In addition, the NATA Aviation Business Conference provides another unique opportunity to connect directly in a less formal atmosphere with your Members of Congress at the Congressional Reception on Tuesday evening at the U.S. Capitol. NATA represents the interests of our members on Capitol Hill every day but, in order to heighten our impact, we need your help to put a face to our industry. Visiting with your representatives helps demonstrate the vital importance of your business to your community as well as to the nation’s economy.

Finally, please take a few minutes to take advantage of our very attractive early bird registration rate. This will only be available for a short time; so please register to attend before this offer expires. We greatly value your support in helping make your voices heard in Washington.

Please Click to add the NATA Aviation Business Conference to your calendar.

Best Regards,


Two Years In – Continuing to Unlock NATA’s Value

September 25, 2014

Greetings from Washington!  NATA continues to make great progress in becoming a widely-admired, world-class trade association.  Advocacy is something hard to explain to “Main Street,” but without an advocate in the Washington policy arena, individual companies and industry segments run the risk of becoming victims of the process.  NATA is here to prevent that from happening and below are great examples of the value created by a strong, bi-partisan and member-driven trade association.

Improving safety performance is NATA’s most important responsibility.  We do this in several ways.  Our much-heralded Safety 1st program is helping lead the way in providing a wide array of tools for businesses to manage risk and prevent daily practices from crossing the line to unsafe conditions.  It’s working fabulously.  Under the leadership of Mike France, this program is widely recognized as the gold standard for properly training line service, supervisory and FBO leadership employees.  NATA worked with the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) to bring the Safety 1st Ground Audit Standard into the international realm by developing the International Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) Standard (see related article).  The international demand is building rapidly as businesses recognize the value created by a common set of standards accepted throughout the world.  NATA and IBAC are off to a very quick start in providing this groundbreaking standard for our industry.

In addition to the menu of programs offered through Safety 1st, NATA members are dominating the rankings for FBO excellence through two highly-regarded FBO surveys.  Annually, Aviation International News (AIN) and Professional Pilot (Pro Pilot) recognize the best FBOs in the business.  It is pretty obvious when analyzing the survey results that there are two common themes for success:  Most of the companies recognized are NATA members and the vast majority participate in NATA’s Safety 1st programs.

In the 2013 Pro Pilot Praise Survey, 91% of the Top FBOs were NATA Members and 86% used Safety 1st training.  Further, 85% of Independent FBOs were NATA members and 80% used Safety 1st.  The 2012 survey was a different format. That survey only named the 10 Best FBOs and all of them were NATA members and Safety 1st participants.

Similarly, of the AIN FBO Survey winners in 2014, 91% were NATA Members and 89% participated in Safety 1st.

Founded by NATA, the Air Charter Safety Foundation continues to provide programs that bring outstanding value for charter and corporate operators.  Most charter operators are familiar with the ACSF Industry Audit Standard, which is rapidly becoming a widely-accepted standard.  Additionally, one of the most exciting new programs is the development of Aviation Safety Action Programs for both charter and corporate operators.  Focusing on safety in all realms that our businesses operate, both ground and air, ensures NATA retains the “high ground” when speaking on behalf of our industry.

These results are no coincidence and point squarely to the acceptance of NATA, Safety 1st and the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) as key value generators that no other trade association can bring to bear.  NATA continues to invest on refreshing our online training offerings to provide the most up-to-date content and relevance and the ACSF is an emerging, industry-leading voice for aviation safety.

There are many other examples of the great strides NATA is making for our industry.

  • NATA and our sister organization, NATA Compliance Services are now providing the Known Crewmember® Program to all U.S. Part 135 and 125 pilots and flight attendants.  This nearly two-year effort will bring tremendous value to over 50,000 U.S. crewmembers.
  • NATA formed and led the California AvGas Coalition that most recently completed a multi-year strategy to successfully settle this very onerous case against California FBOs and fuel suppliers.
  • Along with other General Aviation associations, NATA is helping fund the cost of providing a co-executive director of the Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative.  The FAA recently announced several contenders for the next phase of this critically-important initiative.
  • NATA is a key player in discussions about the future structure of the FAA.  I was interviewed by the FAA Management Advisory Council on this topic and will ensure that General Aviation’s voice remains strong, relevant and opposed to any model that imposes user fees.
  • NATA has established a very robust and constructive dialogue with both the IRS and Treasury Department on the imposition of Federal Excise Taxes on certain aspects of aircraft management agreements.  We were able to coordinate a key meeting between FAA lawyers, IRS and Treasury to enable them to better understand the complex way in which U.S. aviation businesses are regulated.

There is much to be proud of with our accomplishments these last two years.  Not only do NATA’s finances remain strong and sustainable, but we continue to build our reputation as honest brokers in Washington and elsewhere through quiet, solution-driven strategies.  It is paying off very well for you, our members.

At NATA, we’ve created numerous industry-leading policies including ethics, conflict of interest, equal employment, financial stewardship and most importantly, governance.  Your Board of Directors is made up of volunteer, highly-dedicated and very diverse industry interests.  They come from large and small companies, varying business types and geographically diverse areas so no one can say NATA only represents “X.”  The evidence is quite the contrary.  We represent aviation businesses of all types.  Period.  The value creation by NATA for aviation businesses is extraordinary – please help us get the word out about the importance of a strong industry voice in Washington, statehouses and international capitals.  Your continuing support is enabling our success!

In closing, here’s a question to ponder.  Why are some aviation businesses not members of NATA?  I like to say a trade association is somewhat like an insurance policy in that “you only need it when you really need it.”  Well, for those that support our efforts, the value is clear.  Examples of real value creation are above.  But, we need your help in reaching out to colleagues in the industry who aren’t supporting NATA.  These non-members continue to enjoy the benefits of advocacy that NATA brings because our work is industry-focused.  The question really is: “Are they paying their fair share?”  Is advocacy “someone else’s problem?”  The answer to both questions is clearly “no.”  Our industry collectively owns this vitally important role.  Please help us grow our membership by reaching out to your colleagues and telling them about the value NATA continues to deliver every day to our members.

Greetings from Washington!

July 2, 2014

NATA is off to a great start in 2014 and there’s much activity to update our membership on.

We’re thrilled with the arrival of Bill Deere as our Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs. Bill brings a wealth of Washington policy experience with him. He comes to NATA from the U.S. Telecom Association and did previous stints at the Department of State as a Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for Senate liaison, two tours at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in their government affairs shop and also as a member of the staff of Iowa Representative Jim Lightfoot. It was here that Bill gained valuable expertise working with the House Appropriations Committee. This experience will serve NATA and our members well as we approach key legislation, including the upcoming reauthorization of the FAA. Bill and his lovely wife, Theresa, reside in Silver Spring, Maryland, so Bill is very much looking forward to an easier commute with our move to Washington.

Speaking of the move, we were very pleased to sell our current location last fall and are currently leasing that facility until we move. Our new location is in the heart of Washington, on Connecticut Avenue, one half block from Lafayette Park and the White House. We’ll be right across the street from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So, if you’re in the area, please plan to stop by our new home! Our architect is designing some extra space for members to “hang their hats” when they’re in the DC area. This move is part of our strategic repositioning in Washington and will serve us well for the long term.

Here’s a quick rundown on what we’ve been working on so far this year:

• We instituted our new Member Support Level Program in January. Our aim was to “unbundle” our products and services and permit our members to have more of a choice in how they support NATA. This has been a great success and we’re seeing more and more companies select the levels of support that provide the most value for their individual businesses, all while receiving significant discounts.

• February included a meeting with Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx where we had a full discussion on NATA’s mission and the importance of General Aviation to the nation’s economy; and we offered NATA’s help in developing and implementing policies that improve aviation safety and help our members win in the marketplace. I was also fortunate to attend the Bob Hoover gala that included a dinner where several notable inductees entered the Hoover Hall of Honor, followed the next evening by a tribute and the premier of a Paramount Documentary of Bob’s lifetime achievements. Bob is a legend in our aviation world and it was an honor to join many other heroes such as astronauts Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan and Buzz Aldrin. Several key NATA members were also in attendance.

• March started off quickly with the Aviation Business and Legislative Conference. Although we were challenged by miserable weather in Washington, the event was a great success. Other visits that month included the Women in Aviation, International Conference in Orlando, a speech to the Minnesota Aviation Trades Association, and a panel at Aviation Pros Live in Las Vegas. While in Washington for a few days in between traveling, I was interviewed by the FAA’s Management Advisory Council on a wide range of issues, including the possibility of FAA structural reform, something that’s been gaining traction in Washington, D.C. policy circles.

• April began with my first visit to Sun ‘N Fun in Lakeland, Florida. It was a fabulous event! I flew down in a Saratoga and was on a Town Hall panel with the co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, Representative Sam Graves (MO), AOPA President Mark Baker and HAI President Matt Zuccaro.

Just last month, we were once again excited to host a fundraising event for the Veterans Airlift Command (VAC) and other veterans groups at the Air Charter Summit. Last year, working with VAC’s Chairman, CEO and Founder Walt Fricke, we raised over $20,000 for this incredibly worthy organization. I am proud to report that we raised nearly $50,000 this year. As a long-serving veteran, I have a special place in my heart for these groups. I spent nearly nine years on active duty in the Navy and another eighteen in the Air Force Reserve. In fact, the week before the Air Charter Summit, I joined my Navy squadron mates from 30 years ago for a reunion in Newport, RI. Our host was the squadron’s “youngster,” who is now a Rear Admiral and President of the Naval War College. Thirty years ago in April, we lost one of the finest fighter pilots, naval officers, fathers and gentlemen I’ve ever met. Lieutenant Commander Tim Murphy died in a tragic aircraft accident during a catapult shot in the Indian Ocean in month four of a five-month cruise to the Northern Arabian Sea. Tim had a wonderful wife and four young children and it was simply devastating to all involved. His entire family joined us in Newport in June to toast a few in “Muff’s” honor and memory. For veterans, our service is mostly defined by honor, fellowship and sacrifice. This is why our support of the VAC is so exciting, heartwarming and a privilege for us all. Please give this worthy cause your support!

Visit or return to NATA’s website:

Back in the Saddle…….Again

March 27, 2014

It’s been over a year and a half since taking the reins as NATA’s new president. Just after arriving, I conducted several media interviews. One of those resulting articles, written by Paul Lowe at AIN was titled, “Hendricks Takes Over Left Seat at NATA.” It was a catchy metaphor but ended up having a bit more impact than expected. For reasons not clear at the time, Paul’s headline nagged at me a bit until I realized how much I’ve been missing being in a real left seat. With numerous visits to NATA members now complete, it’s clear that there is indeed a shared passion for this great industry. Our members are living it every day. As the leader of our association, learning from those “closer to the action” is providing great value and perspective.

As most of you know, my background prior to arriving at NATA was in commercial and military aviation. Even though I began my flying in 1973 in General Aviation (GA), it had been decades since I’d spent much time flying around the pattern and talking on Unicom. As a firm believer in the crawl- walk- run approach to unfamiliar things, I’ve greatly benefited from time spent listening to and learning with NATA members about flying once again in the GA environment. Add to this the amazing array of personal devices available to improve situational awareness and improve safety margins, and it can be intimidating.

Another emerging theme for a “new guy” is the cutting-edge work being done by several flight training organizations. Companies like Redbird, ATP and others are filling a vital need for our industry and ensuring we attract and retain people bitten with the aviation bug like the rest of us. From our members, there is much discussion on the challenges of operating successful flight training businesses and continued concern over the cost of flight training, including our limited supply of future aviation professionals. Last fall, I was invited out to the AV-ED Flight School in Leesburg, Virginia, to fly some profiles in their Cessna 172 Redbird simulator which was equipped with a very capable glass cockpit EFIS. The motion, visual, avionics and quality of the instruction was something I’d never before seen in GA. The last simulators I’d been exposed to were Level-D full-motion sims for B-767s and 757s.For the price, simplicity and ease of use, the Redbird device seemed the perfect balance between affordability, capability and adaptability of our training paradigm to suit a more tech-savvy generation of aviators.

After this experience, I reached out to Todd Willinger, Redbird’s CEO to arrange a visit to his company in Texas. On display, at both their Austin headquarters and training facility in San Marcos, was unbridled entrepreneurship and world-class innovation. The founders of Redbird certainly have the vision and hunger to fundamentally change the way we train in General Aviation. Frankly, it made me proud that we live in a country where bright people with bright ideas can take risks and create something so innovative. And, Redbird is just one example of NATA members probing and building new ways to develop innovative and sustainable flight training business models.

So where is this leading? Well, after a nearly four-year absence from regular flying, I’ve finally jumped back into the space where our membership resides every day. Last summer, Dan Montgomery and Bobby Beem of Montgomery Aviation, very active NATA members, gave me a tour of their business operations and granted a little right-seat time in the Cessna 310Q, flying around Central and Northern Indiana. In the military, we used to joke about the new guys having “100-knot minds in a 400-knot world.” This is exactly how I felt with Dan and Bobby; but the old desire and instincts were beginning to awaken from a deep hibernation. Late last year, I was also able to fly a couple of hours in a PA-46 Malibu with Dave Conover at SkyTech in Westminster, Maryland. SkyTech is also a very active NATA member; and spending time there with John Foster was very insightful. But, the Malibu flying was a blast and cemented in my mind that the time had come to get serious about getting back in the saddle.

I’m happy to report that I’ve passed my first flight review after a four-year absence and also knocked out an instrument proficiency check. Everyone I’ve interacted with has been superb, professional and enthusiastic. This is extremely energizing for a graying pilot like myself. It’s also been good to listen to a lot of great advice from many highly experienced pilots. As a commercial pilot, weather cancellations for aircraft limitations were rare. For the most part, the aircraft were capable of operating in almost any IMC condition. Other factors such as runway, airspace, NAVAIDs and airport availability most often limited operations. I’ve gotten a great deal of sage advice on changing this mindset as I settle back into GA flying. “Just say no” is a refrain that’s come across loud and clear. The new paradigm I’m coming to grips with, in the class of aircraft I’m flying, is that the aircraft can indeed be the most limiting factor. Checking one’s ego and being willing to accept occasional disruptions is a must to ensure safety is never compromised.

In the meantime, I hope to see you as I cruise around in a rented Saratoga HP. I’ve already got my iPad Mini with Foreflight and an ADS-B box in the aircraft and it is amazing to see the wonderful information available at our fingertips. Even though the new technology is utterly impressive, what amazes me the most is how many bright, motivated and friendly people I continue to encounter when I’m out visiting with our members. This truly is a special segment of aviation and I’m thrilled and re-energized by the entire experience. Fly Safely! Tom

Article first appeared in NATA’s first quarter Aviation Business Journal. Click here to read more.


A Year In Review

January 2, 2014

It has been more than a year since Tom Hendricks assumed the presidency of NATA and brought in the leadership team to assure NATA’s future as a powerful advocate for general aviation in Washington. That has meant not only a change at the top, but also some course corrections which are already making a difference. To understand some of the changes made and some in-the-works under the association’s new management, the Aviation Business Journal conducted a series of wide-ranging interviews with NATA President Tom Hendricks, NATA Board Chairman Michael Scheeringa, Vice Chairman Gary Dempsey and Treasurer Marian Epps.

ABJ: When you became NATA President, what did you perceive to be the state of the organization at the time, and the primary challenges within the association which required your immediate attention?

Hendricks: In preparation for taking the job of NATA President, I did a considerable amount of research on NATA, and found that it had a rich history, and serves a vital function on behalf of the general aviation industry within the United States. What I wanted to do was to build on this. But, in doing that, it also meant building on the relationships NATA had with the aviation regulatory agencies, as well as Capitol Hill. I also looked at NATA’s organizational structure to make sure it could take us to the next level. I examined NATA’s financial foundation, and saw that it had a very strong balance sheet. At the same time, I wanted to see how we could leverage the kind of talent we had recruited. So, I focused on a thorough structural review and planning process after I arrived. From that, our team developed a strategic plan and we aligned all of our activities with that plan—specifically based on a common direction—and a way to measure our success.

ABJ: Can you tell me about the objectives of the strategic plan?

Hendricks: First of all, we defined the mission and values of NATA, and created a vision for what the association was here to do and what we wanted to achieve. Because I want NATA to be focused on our members, I saw our mission as one that would empower them to become the most successful and the safest aviation businesses. For example, we put together new safety initiatives through the Safety 1st Program and the Air Charter Safety Foundation, and we focused on member advocacy through legislative and regulatory agency engagement. We wanted to increase NATA’s presence and profile in Washington, DC, and to review our membership structure. In fact, this is something we are doing right now. We also set out to build NATA into a high-performance organization. To do this, we looked at ways to avoid conflict of interest, developed a new code of ethics, and looked at employment opportunity. We have implemented those initiatives within the organization and have completely rewritten our employee manual to reflect what we are trying to do.

ABJ: What are some of the programs NATA has either implemented or built upon since you became President?

Hendricks: We rolled out the new NATA Workers’ Compensation Insurance Program™ through Beacon Aviation Insurance Services, as well as an Aviation Legal Services program. We also introduced a new NATA Professional Employer Organization (PEO) program which, for a monthly fee, provides a large share of back-office functions. This will enable our members to concentrate more on their expertise, and outsource payroll, accounting, billing and other back office activities, through a partnering arrangement with Oasis Outsourcing, Inc. We have marketed this to our members under the name “NATA People Solutions.” Last year, we added a new aircraft flight coordinator training program, and brought the NATA supervisor training course online. And, at the request of a member, we translated the NATA Professional Line Services Training program into French—making a foreign language version available for the first time.

ABJ: There have been some staff changes since you became President. Can you tell us about that?

Hendricks: Early in my tenure, it was very apparent that Amy Koranda’s talents weren’t being utilized to their fullest, which is why I promoted her to Vice President, Operations, from Director of Safety and Training. Also, I saw a need for someone to work the regulatory agencies—specifically the FAA and the TSA. For that, I hired John McGraw to be Director of Regulatory Affairs. He interfaces with the FAA and TSA, as well as with our state advocacy networks.

ABJ: Has NATA’s approach to working with Congress and the regulatory agencies undergone any changes since you became President?

Hendricks: We are now more engaged with Capitol Hill and the regulatory agencies. Our philosophy today is that we must build long-term, constructive relationships with regulators and legislators, which means taking a positive approach. Wearer being good listeners who are more solution oriented.

ABJ: Have you forged a closer working relationship with the principal aviation advocacy groups in Washington?

Hendricks: Yes. We are interacting more with the leadership of those associations, which has helped to raise NATA’s profile. Across all segments of aviation, we are in agreement on all the big issues, and focus on what we agree upon, not on what we don’t.

ABJ: Over the past year, what legislative or regulatory priorities did you identify on which NATA needed to focus, on behalf of its members?

Hendricks: We worked with other aviation associations to build the House General Aviation Caucus. Currently, 235members of the US House of Representatives have signed onto the General Aviation Caucus. We also spent a lot of time talking about the tax burden on our members, and have worked to ensure that there will never be a $100.00 user fee imposed on general aviation, which has been proposed. The Administration admitted that this additional tax would go toward general deficit reduction rather than improving the aviation infrastructure. Of course, we also worked closely with the IRS to reverse its position on Federal Excise Tax (FET) applications to amounts paid by an aircraft owner to an aircraft management company with respect to that owner’s use of his own aircraft in Part91 operations. The IRS position, we argued, was contrary to several longstanding commercial FET rulings, which said that the FET does not apply to a Part 91 operation carried out by the management company for the aircraft owner. As a result, last May, the IRS suspended potential assessments associated with current ongoing audits of aircraft management companies regarding FET liability, and promised to move forward to issue new guidelines on FET applications to this issue. The other challenge was sequestration, under which 149 contract towers were slated for closure, and the people who manned those towers were going to be furloughed. Last spring, we were able to work with Congress and the FAA to stop that from happening. Now that the new federal fiscal year is upon us, we continue to monitor this situation very closely.

ABJ: The Airline Services Council (ASC) is a component o f NATA. Are any changes anticipated with regard to it?

Hendricks: We want to grow the membership and make sure we are doing as much as possible to advocate for this group. For example, we have worked with the ASC members on TSA issues. Keep in mind, although TSA’s regulatory authority more directly impacts the airlines, it could also impact ASC members, given their support of airline operations.

ABJ: When you became NATA President, how many members did it have? What steps have you taken to increase that number?

Hendricks: Last year, we had approximately 2,000members. We want to grow this significantly in the coming years, and we are making a major effort to do that. In fact, we are seeing a healthy influx of new members. Historically, NATA has been viewed as representing FBOs, charter/management companies, fuel services, flight schools and maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) organizations. But, in an effort to grow our membership, we have modified the bylaws to establish more membership categories, in order to engage all businesses that operate at airports.

ABJ: Looking ahead, what are the challenges to the general aviation industry you will be confronting in your second year as NATA President?

Hendricks: At the top of this list is the economy which is still tepid. This is why we will be closely watching any proposed legislation and regulations that can financially impact our members. At the same time, we want to do a better job of educating the public about the importance of general aviation to the U.S. economy. Long term, we are working with the FAA on finding an alternative to leaded avgas, and we are definitely looking at ways to expand our Safety 1st program to address safety and performance improvements. In order to underscore the importance of the relationships between airports and airport businesses, we expanded our Board of Directors to include an airport representative. We appointed Clara Bennett, who is Director of the Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport, because we believe we can leverage her knowledge of the relationships between airport authorities, and others who are engaged in businesses at airports.

ABJ: I understand that NATA is planning to sell its headquarters building in northern Virginia in order to move into Washington, D.C., proper. Can you comment on that?

Hendricks: Yes. We closed on the sale of our headquarters building at the end of October 2013, but will lease the building back for an additional year to give us the time to find a suitable location in Washington, where we can establish a world class meeting and headquarters facility. Prompting this is our belief that we need a stronger presence in Washington; and by having our headquarters in the city, our legislative and regulatory team will be able to interface more efficiently with members of Congress, as well as with the regulatory agencies and their staffs, and the staffs of other aviation associations. We want to make it easier for those people to have access to NATA staff.

ABJ: Anything more you’d like to add?

Hendricks: I’m very positive about our direction and our staff and how we are being perceived in Washington.

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