Bumpy Ride At NBAA...

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Officials and staff at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) have been hard at work putting the organization's membership at ease and gearing up for a second presidential talent search in less than a year after what has been a tumultuous couple of weeks. For those just joining this saga, a brief recap is probably in order:

  • Late in the week of March 23, longtime NBAA media relations manager Cassandra Bosco announced her intention to leave the association and form her own communications firm.
  • On March 30, the association's senior vice president, operations, Bob Blouin, announced his intention to resign.
  • On Thursday, April 1, the NBAA issued a press release announcing the departure of new President and CEO Shelley Longmuir and decisions by both Blouin and Bosco to remain at the association.
  • The same April 1 press release also announced the departure of Bob Warren, executive vice president and COO, who was hired by Longmuir.
  • Also on April 1, Chairman Donald E. Baldwin took over as NBAA interim president and CEO. A search committee, headed by NBAA Vice Chairman Ken Emerick, was formed to begin work on identifying a new president and CEO.
The rapid-fire developments came during a scheduled meeting of the association's board. Since then, NBAA staff and board members have gone out of their way to reassure the association's membership that they are back to work. A public letter to all NBAA members signed by Baldwin noted, "You should know that this is a resilient group of professionals, most with very long service to the Association. In part because of that experience, the business of NBAA continues uninterrupted, with some shifting of responsibilities."

All of which might lead observers to wonder what the heck is going on at the NBAA. Since April 1, AVweb has spoken with several Washington-based aviation industry observers who offered a variety of insights into the goings-on at the NBAA and, especially, Longmuir's tenure there. None of them wanted to be quoted directly or named. To the great frustration of Washington's rumormongers, no one at the association is talking publicly about the overturned resignations, Longmuir's departure or the apparent quick turn of events. All the dirt will eventually come out, said one observer; it will just take months, instead of days, for it to happen. While some of the details are murky, other observers generally agree that Longmuir's management style conflicted both with what the association's senior staff was accustomed to and with the board's expectations.

For example, by appointing Warren to the newly created position of executive vice president and COO, Longmuir effectively divorced herself from the association's daily management. Similarly, Longmuir's background -- for a number of years, she was a senior lobbyist for United Air Lines and maintained good political connections in Washington -- had not developed into the asset expected. One observer told AVweb that the NBAA needed and wanted a big political or legislative "win" early in Longmuir's term. When whatever the NBAA's board expected did not materialize, for whatever reason, her days became numbered. Indeed, despite the public rapidity with which the events at the NBAA have occurred, AVweb has learned that unhappiness with Longmuir among the NBAA's board of directors had been growing in the weeks leading up to her April 1 departure.

As another example, some say she never really grasped the "meat" of general and business aviation, preferring instead to remain insulated from the association's staff and membership by appointing Warren as a "buffer." That apparent "disengagement" by Longmuir is in sharp contrast to the association's former leaders, who include John Winant, Jonathan Howe and Jack Olcott, all of whom had business aviation "in their genes," according to another observer. As an example, Warren's background in the airline industry -- a traditional political enemy of general aviation and, especially, the corporate flight departments at the core of the NBAA's membership -- coupled with Longmuir's similar background often placed the association's top management at a disadvantage when detailed understanding of member issues and longstanding government policies was required.