Beyond COVID-19 

Ed Bolen is President and CEO the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Even as the international business aircraft community continues responding to the daunting challenges of our ongoing COVID-19 moment, I believe there’s reason for optimism as we look to finally emerge from this crisis. Certainly, we’ve had to weather many ‘headwinds’ throughout the past year. Local, state and national restrictions in 2020 had a profound impact on the travel flexibility afforded by the use of business aviation, and those effects continue to linger today. We must also acknowledge that already, some of the positive developments we’d hoped to see at the start of 2021 – most notably a return to in-person gatherings – haven’t yet manifested. Despite these setbacks, however – in fact, to large degree because of them – we’ve also seen tremendous resilience and innovation across our industry. For example, as air traffic control facilities around the globe were impacted by COVID-19, business aviation, flight crews adapted quickly to such ‘ATC Zero’ environments by reverting back to their training, which in turn allowed operations to continue safely under very challenging circumstances. Similarly, our industry was at the forefront of measures to protect the safety and health of our passengers, crews and flight departments. These range from cashless transactions and enhanced sanitization procedures, to dedicated flight crew, dispatch and maintenance shifts. At the same time, business aviation FBOs swiftly implemented enhanced safety protocols of their own to ensure the safety of the passengers and flight crews utilizing their operations, as well as their employees. This impressive response has helped business aviation weather the COVID storm with greater resilience than most other segments of the transportation industry. As COVID-19 took hold across our country last Spring, companies also realized that business aviation offered distinct advantages over other forms of travel, including preservation of personal health standards and social-distancing guidelines. The ability to reach thousands of community airports, another inherent benefit of our industry, became even more important as airlines drastically curtailed their service. It’s also clear we’re seeing a wave of new business aviation clients, particularly in the charter segment, as people have turned to our industry in the place of traveling on the commercial airlines. In this time when concerns about personal health and safety are paramount, business aviation offers passengers a greatly enhanced level of control over their surroundings – one that is simply not possible onboard a commercial airliner, or in the airline terminal environment. Many signs point to an exciting future Although we continue to face challenges from the lingering pandemic, I also feel a strong sense of optimism as we look to rebound in 2021, when vaccinations take hold, and our lives return to something more closely resembling ‘normal’. In fact, I believe it’s fair to say our industry also has several strong ‘tailwinds’ that indicate a bright future ahead, including continued strong growth predictions for the global economy. We’ve seen before that, as the economy expands, so too does demand for transportation across all segments, but particularly in aviation. This offers an opportunity for business aviation as a leading indicator of economic recovery. I’m also excited by the level of innovation across our industry that has maintained momentum throughout the pandemic. From the emerging advanced air mobility (AAM) segment, to continuing investments in supersonic aircraft, to increasing awareness and adoption of new, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), there’s never been a more exciting time to witness new product development across business aviation. As readers of World Commerce Review are aware, NBAA is at the forefront of promoting sustainability across our industry, particularly in the area of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. In fact, 2020 may be remembered as the year when our industry truly advanced toward widespread adoption of these innovative and environmentally-sustainable fuels. Momentum established through a variety of SAF-focused events around the globe in 2019 continued to be strong, even as COVID-19 halted in-person demonstrations. That included strong participation in NBAA’s Virtual SAF Summit last September, and this greater awareness drove progress toward broader SAF availability and production. Already this year, we’ve seen several of announcements of new partnerships in bringing SAF to a larger audience. At the same time, our industry is building on other ways to promote sustainability through book-and-claim programs, and encouraging government programs to further stimulate this important, emerging market. A next-generation workforce I’m also encouraged by our industry’s growing focus on growing a diverse inclusive and highly talented workforce. NBAA is working on this front across multiple channels, including with universities and others to promote business aviation, and make sure that our industry is accessible, and capable of attracting the best and the brightest to help us go forward. This certainly remains a time that holds unique, and at times seemingly insurmountable obstacles for our industry. However, it’s also a time when learning from each other and applying lessons that are inherent to us as aviators and aviation professionals continues to be at the forefront. In short, the lessons we’ve learned will serve us well this year and beyond.
... the lessons we’ve learned will serve us well this year and beyond