NATA — Growing and Evolving To Meet Our Members’ Needs

October 3, 2017

As I reach the end of my first year at the helm of NATA, I want to report to you on how I see the state of the association, particularly in the context of my inaugural remarks to you.

Our first and highest responsibility to you is fiduciary. While NATA is a trade association, it is also a business, and for this enterprise to be successful we must operate in a responsible manner. On that front, I am very pleased. As we enter the final quarter of 2017, NATA is in excellent financial shape, a combination of conservative budgeting and the augmentation of member dues with products and services that help you compete in the marketplace.

While our Safety 1st program continues to provide industry-leading ground handling training, we are not resting on our laurels. The NATA Safety Committee and association staff are hard at work on the refresh of Safety 1st, ensuring its enviable status as the gold standard in ground handling training will continue for the foreseeable future. I am proud of our recently concluded, first-ever, Ground Handling Safety Symposium, because it represents what I think is the best of NATA—an association growing and evolving to meet our members’ needs.

The Symposium was developed by our Safety Committee to explore the challenges of ground handling in a collaborative environment, allowing participants to interact with experts and industry colleagues. It wasn’t just about spending a day and a half listening to speakers, the Symposium included open forum discussions led by members of the Committee.

Other members take advantage of our Workers Compensation Insurance Programs, underwritten by industry leaders Allianz and QBE, both featuring a good experience return. In other words, a safe year for plan participants means a rebate, which has been averaging more than 20 percent for our over 800 company participants.

On the Part 135 side, we offer the industry products, including loss of license insurance and access to Known Crewmember® through NATA Compliance Services. Programs like these help our charter operators compete in a very demanding market to attract and retain pilots.

These products are developed in consultation with our members and that requires us to hit the road, making sure our contact with the membership goes beyond the association’s policy committees to include input from members in every region of the country. I made that a priority for 2017, asking my two Executive Vice Presidents, Bill Deere and Tim Obitts to join me on the road. Tim and Bill pursued that with enthusiasm, among other things working with the Air Charter Committee to launch a series of well-received NATA Air Charter and Industry Town Halls. From Portland, OR to Greenville, SC to Chicago, IL to Dallas, TX, we have listened to your concerns and taken the opportunity to share the value proposition of NATA membership. I am particularly proud that our recent success resolving a compliance issue stopping air charter operators from adding Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to their certificates was a direct result of member interaction at an NATA Town Hall.

Our products and services are the “currency” through which we provide advocacy and, believe me, aviation businesses are in the midst of a very challenging year on the advocacy front. NATA, along with other leading general aviation associations, are in a battle with the airlines over the future management of the air traffic control system. To lose this fight—for the airlines to, in essence, take over management of the air traffic control system—I believe would forever change general aviation as we know it in this country. Let me acknowledge the attendees at NATA’s Aviation Business Conference in June, who took time out of their schedules to travel to Capitol Hill and visit with lawmakers, sharing the concerns of the entire aeronautical service provider community.

That is not our only advocacy challenge. We have been confronting an attack on aviation businesses from within the general aviation community itself, an initiative by a national pilot organization to impose economic regulation on FBO pricing. While we will continue to meet rhetoric with fact-based response, I believe this diverts precious time and resources away from the issue on which we should be united—the threat to general aviation posed by the airlines.

If we do not prevail in this struggle, it will likely render moot any further discussions about the pricing of general aviation services.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that NATA’s advocacy is purely defensive. In fact, I am pleased to report that our member-driven advocacy is also showing positive results, at both the FAA and on Capitol Hill.

All in all, it has been quite a first year for me as your president. I want to thank you for your ongoing support of me and the association. As we move forward together, please know that hearing from you with your concerns and ideas is both important and necessary to the ongoing success of NATA and our industry.

Republished from the 2017 Q3 Aviation Business Journal.


The Leading Voice of Aviation Business

June 23, 2017

Since taking the helm at NATA, I have come to recognize that our members join the association for a variety of reasons. Some take advantage of the products and services we provide to help their business run safely and successfully. Others find participation in our policy committees or two annual industry conferences an important part of their interaction with, and opportunity to give back to, the industry. Advocacy does not always rise to a first-order consideration. It’s difficult to quantify, though many members recognize the behind-thescenes advocacy work of an association often prevents bad ideas from taking root, still other members see it as a type of insurance—there when you need it. Right now, advocacy is more important than ever, as NATA members confront proposals that threaten our industry from both within the general aviation community and as well as from without.

Bill Deere’s column this quarter discusses how the nation’s airlines proffer various myths as facts in their quest to create an air traffic control corporation. Tim Obitts looks at a legal aspect to NATA advocacy, our recent Supreme Court filing in support of a member company caught up in the IRS interpretation of the applicability of Federal Excise Taxes to aircraft management services. Unfortunately, I need to discuss a threat to our industry from within, specifically the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) assertions that FBOs and airports are maximizing their respective revenue streams in a manner that is unfair to pilots. Despite the best efforts of NATA, its member companies and others in the general aviation community, AOPA is requesting the FAA require either FBOs to provide no-cost access to ramps and facilities or airports to provide pilots with free public ramp space.

For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, in late November of last year, the FAA met with Bill and his regulatory team, and informed them that AOPA planned to meet with the agency in December to discuss FBO pricing. That meeting occurred in late December, and shortly after the holidays, NATA was contacted by the FAA requesting we provide our perspective. AOPA’s documents (which we have posted online at http://www.nata.aero) revealed an eleven-month campaign and included a cursory review of leases at a select few public-use airports, as well as pricing information derived from AirNav data, concluding:

  • Widespread FBO industry consolidation is harming the general aviation user
  • A compelling need exists to oversee the business relationship between airports and FBOs
  • Analogized FBOs to utilities—wants FAA to explore oversight mechanisms for prices.

In response to AOPA’s concerns, NATA presented an overview, “The State of the FBO Industry,” (also available on the frontpage of our website) to the FAA. The summary, developed with the assistance of our FBO and air charter members, discusses the costs of operating airport businesses and the many variables that go into determining pricing structure, including capital invested, lease duration, fuel volume, personnel expenses, hours of operation, and traffic types. The FAA is in the process of reviewing our comments as well as those from other stakeholders. I was proud of the NATA staff and members who helped develop our response. This is NATA and its members working in the best tradition of trade associations—meeting rhetoric with fact.

The May edition of AOPA’s Pilot magazine highlighted their FBO initiative and chose to attack the FAA for asking stakeholders to comment on its call for economic regulation of FBOs. The association even criticized NATA for bringing its eleven-month campaign to your attention.

As your president, I take seriously my responsibility to present the facts in a straightforward manner. NATA is not going to be the association that cries, “Wolf!” Despite claims to the contrary, AOPA’s documents speak for themselves. Its presentation compares FBOs to public utilities and requests the agency examine oversight mechanisms in other industries as possible models. That is a pure and straightforward move toward economic regulation. While it claims to support FBOs and the free market, there is no recognition of the fact that some locations require different pricing models. Among other things, the AOPA proposal requires FBOs to assume the security and safety liabilities associated with utilizing your business–without compensation. The decision to assess a facility charge, particularly when there are no purchases of fuel or services, should be yours and not imposed by law or regulation.

Importantly, there are existing FAA mechanisms to address situations where an FBO or airport is violating grant assurance requirements to furnish services on a “reasonable, and not unjustly discriminatory, basis to all users thereof.” Neither NATA nor its members support those violating that important assurance, which would also represent a breach of faith with their customers.

Many of you rightly ask whether I have met with Mark Baker, the President of AOPA. I have; and, while I do not believe it is appropriate to share confidential conversations or comments of others publicly, let’s simply say that, on this issue, we have significantly different positions. However, I can also attest that, on other important issues, the two associations continue their tradition of joint work toward the benefit of all general aviation.

Let me close by saying, “thank you.” I have been heartened by your ongoing support and am gratified by your continuing offers of assistance. Be assured NATA will continue to meet rhetoric with facts in support of free enterprise.

NATA is–and will remain–the leading voice of aviation business.

Republished from the 2017 Q2 Aviation Business Journal.