For 70 years, NBAA has promoted and protected business aviation.
Imagine facing the prospect of possible airline domination of the ATC system without having an organization such as NBAA there to represent your interests as a business aircraft operator.
That was the scenario when Bud Lathrop of Bristol-Myers invited a dozen fellow business aircraft operators to meet at the Wings Club in New York City on May 17, 1946. They resolved to start an organization that would promote and protect the interests of business aviation, and 70 years ago, on Feb. 13, 1947, the Corporation Aircraft Owners Association (CAOA), NBAA’s predecessor, was born.
The CAOA held its first annual business meeting in New York City on Sept. 24 of that year. The late Walter Pague, who represented American Rolling Mill at that meeting, said that the association’s first priority was to keep its head above water. “We were trying to survive [on limited resources] and build enough members to be heard in Washington.”
Besides trying to gain the ear of regulators and legislators, the association faced internal challenges. CAOA had to convince pilots that using an aircraft as a business tool was different than wartime flying. CAOA also needed to dispel the misconception that the organization was a pilots’ group. Instead, it was designed to meet the needs of companies operating business aircraft. But even then, the association had to balance the interests of fleet operators with those flying just a single airplane.
Obviously, the CAOA didn’t solve all those problems overnight, but the association’s efforts in the technical area bore fruit quickly. As early as 1948 the CAOA’s Technical Committee worked closely with manufacturers to standardize avionics and instrumentation.
In the early 1950s, as the association slowly gained its footing, CAOA leaders decided that if the organization was going to have its voice heard in Washington, DC, it would have to move from New York to the nation’s capital, which was done in January 1951.
Meanwhile, CAOA was attracting a growing number of aircraft operators. By the end of 1953, the association had 244 member companies that were flying 750 aircraft, ranging from single- and twin-engine general aviation airplanes, to modified commercial transports and converted military-surplus aircraft. The breadth and depth of the membership justified changing the group’s name that year to the National Business Aircraft Association.
The year 1955 was a watershed, as Beech introduced the first business jet, a modified French military jet trainer called the Morane-Saulnier Paris Jet. More significantly, Gulfstream began developing the first turbine-powered airplane specifically for business flying, the twin-turboprop Gulfstream I. In addition, NBAA members began installing airborne weather radar, VHF radios, ILS receivers and other state-of-the-art equipment in their aircraft.
However, the seminal aviation event of the 1950s was the midair collision of two airliners over the Grand Canyon in 1956. The accident led to a comprehensive review of the ATC system and establishment in 1958 of a new, dedicated federal agency to regulate aviation, the FAA. As part of the ATC overhaul, NBAA was among the organizations asked to define aviation’s future needs for services and facilities. Clearly, NBAA had arrived.
As business flying grew, brand-new, turbine-powered business airplanes were introduced, starting in the late 1950s. The North American Sabreliner and Lockheed JetStar ushered in the jet era, and by the mid-1960s, other jets were available, including the Jet Commander, Hawker and Lear Jet. The first business jet to use quieter and more efficient turbofan engines (instead of turbojets) – Dassault’s GE CF700-powered Fan Jet Falcon (Falcon 20) – was certificated in 1965.
Also, a new class of business turboprops emerged in the mid-1960s, most notably the Pratt & Whitney PT6- powered Beech King Air. In addition, the development of turbine helicopters made rotorcraft much more productive for business use. Also, new turbocharged and pressurized versions of piston-powered general aviation (GA) airplanes were flying faster and higher.
MORE MEMBER SERVICES, EMERGING CHALLENGES
During this period, NBAA expanded its support for operators, creating a prototype flight operations manual, which was first distributed in 1957.
Also, to help sort out the performance claims of manufacturers, NBAA’s Technical Committee developed an IFR flight profile for jet aircraft in 1964. The so-called “jet range format” provided an objective yardstick by which to measure the capabilities of business jets.
In the early 1960s, NBAA formed new committees to deal with airspace and air traffic issues. They provided valuable input to the FAA as it reshaped the ATC system. In addition, beginning in the late 1960s, the association conducted annual salary surveys to give aviation managers benchmarks for employee compensation.
An increasing number of aircraft operators found the support provided by NBAA helpful. The number of member companies grew from 500 in 1960 to well over 800 by 1970.
As the 1970s began, new technologies promised to make business flying safer and more efficient. Quieter, less fuel-thirsty turbofans powered second-generation business jets. Twin-turbine, IFR-capable helicopters entered service. Integrated avionics packages, digital and color weather radar, and other new electronics were introduced. Long-range navigation systems became important to operators flying across the North Atlantic at preferred cruising altitudes, where such equipment was required beginning in 1977.
During the 1980s, new, single-engine turboprops emerged, composite materials were used to save weight, winglets improved aircraft performance, and electronic flight instrument systems were introduced. The first business jet with an all-digital integrated avionics suite flew in 1984.
TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS
Despite all these advances, NBAA and business aviation faced stern challenges. The pressure to reduce aircraft noise came to a head in the Noise Control Act of 1972. That legislation, as originally crafted, would have given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate all noise. NBAA helped persuade lawmakers to give the FAA jurisdiction over aircraft noise, a move that prevented the industry from being subject to what could have been draconian EPA rules.
The fuel crisis of 1973 also posed a significant threat. NBAA and other GA groups had to convince government officials that non-airline flying should not be drastically curtailed. Eventually, GA was able to negotiate only a modest cut in fuel allocations. To help members deal with fuel shortages, NBAA established a system by which transient operators could reserve fuel at participating FBOs.
But perhaps the greatest challenge for NBAA and the industry during this era was the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike. The association helped keep business aircraft moving by establishing a 24-hour member hotline, which provided the latest air traffic reports, and the fly around saturated sectors service, which provided useful ATC flow-control information. Throughout this turbulent period, NBAA fought unreasonable operating restrictions, such as aircraft bans, airport curfews and discriminatory airport fees.
Due to the operating cost challenges of this period, some companies sought less-expensive ways to use business aviation. Aircraft management firms became an option for businesses that preferred to outsource the aviation function, and in 1986, a new operating concept was introduced – fractional ownership.
NBAA, BUSINESS AVIATION EVOLVE
A milestone in the history of business flying was the formation of the International Business Aviation Council in 1981. Then-NBAA President John H. Winant was instrumental in the creation of this federation of national and regional associations, which elevated business aviation’s profile worldwide.
To accommodate the ever-increasing growth in air traffic and overhaul an ATC system that had remained fundamentally unchanged since the 1960s, the FAA unveiled a modernization plan based on the microwave landing system. But by the mid-1990s, the agency decided that the satellite-based GPS would be the cornerstone of the next-generation ATC system. Business aviation was quick to embrace this new technology.
Meanwhile, the international environment was evolving. American and European aviation regulators began to harmonize certification and operating standards. The opening and expansion of new markets, especially in China, led to an increase in overseas business flying.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, the number of NBAA committees grew and were organized into strategic focus teams to increase efficiency. NBAA’s government affairs staff was enlarged. Also, NBAA officials addressed regulators’ concerns about fractional ownership by helping craft FAR Part 91K. In 2001, NBAA established the GA Desk (now known as NBAA Air Traffic Services) at the FAA’s ATC System Command Center to help expedite business aircraft flights.
As the internet became an essential business tool, NBAA created web-based member resources: the NBAA.org website was launched in 1995; Air Mail, a network for collaboration and discussion, was started in 1997; NBAA Update, a weekly email newsletter, was first delivered in 2001; and Business Aviation Insider, a bimonthly magazine, debuted in 2006. NBAA established a social media presence in 2009 on Facebook and Twitter, which both continue to grow today, along with NBAA sites on YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram.
NBAA also has helped recruit people to the industry and enhance the career development of business aviation professionals. NBAA’s Professional Development Program and Certified Aviation Manager Program were launched in 1997 and 2001, respectively, and some courses were offered at NBAA events for the convenience of members.
Additionally, the association has expanded its regional programs to facilitate interaction between the staff and members. In 2002, NBAA launched a series of business aviation regional forums. Since hiring its first regional rep in 1997, NBAA now has six reps who support more than 50 regional groups.
During this era, attendance at NBAA seminars grew, as did participation in the association’s annual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition. NBAA’s international events also have grown substantially since the first European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) was held in Geneva, Switzerland in 2001. An Asian show (ABACE) was added in 2005 in Shanghai, China.
The need to preserve and protect business aviation continues, and the No Plane No Gain campaign – an initiative of NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association – continues to promote the understanding and acceptance of business aviation. NBAA has indeed come a long way since 1947.
In the beginning, NBAA’s annual meetings were so small that most people knew every other attendee’s name, and all of the exhibits could fit into a hotel suite. The convention has grown by leaps and bounds since those early days.
In 1954, NBAA held its first three-day convention in Dallas. Airplanes for sale were displayed at an FBO at Love Field. The gathering also featured a series of technical sessions dedicated to the maintenance and operation of the most popular business aircraft.
Eventually, the NBAA convention became the venue for introduction of new products. For example, although the original Learjet debuted elsewhere, a mockup of the revolutionary jet was displayed at the 1964 NBAA show in Miami, which was the first convention that attracted more than 1,000 people.
By the time NBAA celebrated its 25th anniversary at the 1972 convention in Cincinnati, the event drew nearly 3,000 attendees. Attendance quintupled by 1989, when the convention drew a then-record 15,046 attendees to Atlanta. The high-water mark in attendance was achieved in 2007, when the event drew more than 32,000 attendees.
Today, NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) is considered one of the most innovative trade shows and is ranked in the top 10 U.S. shows.