Jan. 14, 2021

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen joined two prominent industry analysts in a Jan. 13 webinar sponsored by Aviation Week, examining the question on the minds of everyone in business aviation: what does the year ahead look like, as we turn the page on a year that was arguably unlike any other?

Bolen pointed to a feeling of measured confidence throughout the industry, particularly when compared to March and April 2020, as the global effects from COVID-19 became apparent. “We worked hard as a community to communicate, to share information, to understand the operating environment and react to it,” he said. “That allowed for a degree of resilience.” In that regard, Bolen described the innumerable accounts he heard throughout 2020 about how companies relying on business aviation reconsidered their missions, their passengers and other strategic imperatives to fit a pandemic moment with an enduring need for companies to meet with clients and customers.

That resilience, and a spirit of innovation, was visible not only in the industry’s direct address to the COVID-19 pandemic – including new aircraft cabin-sanitation procedures, capabilities for touchless transactions and plans for handling ATC-Zero situations. As Bolen noted, the industry has also moved forward on larger priorities, including development in advanced air mobility systems, sustainable aviation fuels and supersonic technologies.

Teal Group Analyst Richard Aboulafia appeared to reflect Bolen’s upbeat outlook, noting that, despite momentary downturns in aircraft sales and flight activity earlier in 2020, business aviation has weathered the pandemic in a far stronger position so far than it did the global recession of more than a decade ago.

In summing up his report about business aviation value, Aboulafia declared: “I would totally echo what Ed said…AT the end of the day, it’s very easy for people to say, ‘this is the new normal,’ I’m perfectly very happy with communicating with people via webcam….but as soon as your competitor can back and travel, and show up before clients, and you don’t, you lose.”

View the Aviation Week Webinar, “Business Aviation: What’s Coming In 2021?”

Brian Kough, senior director of forecasts and aerospace insights for Aviation Week, pointed to the surge in new business aircraft users throughout the pandemic that should bolster the industry going forward. “I saw one figure noting the average ‘touch points’ in a business aircraft operation for customers is 20, versus something like 400 in a commercial [airline] operation,” he said. “That has a lot of meaning for those who need to travel.”

Bolen concluded by noting that 2021 marks “a new year and a new opportunity” for business aviation stakeholders. “Given all that we’ve gone through, there’s a lot to feel good that our industry as we’ve emerged from 2020,” he said. “There will undoubtedly be challenges, but I think a lot of the things that we’ve learned over the past year [will] serve us well.

“We’re emerging from 2020 stronger, and there are a lot of reasons to believe that we have opportunity to seize in 2021,” Bolen concluded. “I’m anxious to work with everybody to do that.”