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April 13, 2004

Business NewsWire Complete Issue

By The AVweb Editorial Staff

Bumpy Ride At NBAA...

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.

...Longmuir's Take...

For her part, Longmuir attempted to counter many of those observations in a prepared statement of her own, as previously reported by AVweb and dated April 1, the day of her departure. According to her statement, she had a “difference in vision for leadership” of the association, something with which no one disagrees. "I am proud of the progress I made at as President and CEO and take pride in accomplishing key goals for the organization and its members," she said in her statement. Additionally, she added that she "was able to establish sound financial footing for the organization," although the NBAA has seen substantial growth in its staff and its industry-leading trade show over the last 10-15 years and is not known to have financial troubles of any kind. For example, under former president Jack Olcott, NBAA membership more than doubled -- from 3,076 companies in 1992 to more than 7,300 by late 2002 -- and convention attendance almost doubled, from 17,312 attendees in 1992 to nearly 30,000 for the 2002 event.

Perhaps most telling, however, is Longmuir's emphasis on working to "spearhead legislative initiatives to ensure members interests were actively reflected in policymaking in Washington D.C. and across the U.S.," according to her statement. "This is a dynamic time for aviation policy, and General Aviation needs access to TSA and Capitol Hill. I was proud to have provided that access as policy on security and safety issues was being crafted," she added. Despite what many observers of the Washington aviation trade association scene have said since her departure, Longmuir's statement referenced her development and execution of "a legislative and policy agenda that ensured that the NBAA membership’s voice was heard on Capitol Hill and within the Bush Administration at the most senior levels." That may be true, one observer told AVweb, but there was precious little to show for it in legislation or policy direction at the FAA, the TSA or elsewhere.

...As Search For Prez Begins Anew

Meanwhile, back at the ranch and in what must seem like déjà vu all over again, the NBAA's board has formed a new search committee and retained an executive search firm -- the same one they used to hire Longmuir -- to come up with a new president. Toward that end, the NBAA has established a page on its Web site to obtain "the advice and counsel of NBAA Members regarding qualifications or persons the [presidential search] Committee should consider for this position." The Web page was announced in an April 7 press release. At AVweb's deadline for this issue of Business AVflash, the association did not have any details on the activity generated by members through that Web page, but noted that response had been "good."

"It's kind of like the dog that chases cars and finally catches one -- what is he going to do with it?" opined one wag in commenting on replacing Longmuir. Now that the NBAA's board has decided to find another president, who will be the successful candidate? Will the next NBAA president be someone from the "traditional" business aviation mold or will it be someone calculated to break that mold, as some believe of Longmuir's hiring? Just as no one at the NBAA has spoken publicly about Longmuir's departure, no one has talked about potential candidates for the position, either. However, one can look at the candidates widely rumored to be in the running for the position before Longmuir got it and speculate on who might be "the usual suspects."

At various points in the months and weeks leading up to Longmuir's being announced as the NBAA's president on May 30, 2003, several names were rumored to be in the lead for the position. They included Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Steve Brown, now the FAA's VP operations planning/acting Operational Evolution Plan director; Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association; former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey; and one or two former congressmen. But those names were rumors then and are rumors now -- no one has emerged from the aviation trade association "chatter" as a leading candidate for the position -- it's way too early. That said, you can bet the NBAA is putting this project on a very fast track in order to have the association's new president on board and able to walk and chew gum in advance of this year's convention, scheduled for October 12, 13 and 14, in Las Vegas, Nev.

Cessna Update: CJ3 Equipment, Performance

Cessna Aircraft Company announced earlier this month two upgrades to the forthcoming Citation CJ3 model: an improved standard-equipment package and increased payload. According to the company, all Citation CJ3s will now come equipped with a standard FMS performance database making takeoff and landing performance data more readily accessible, while V-speeds will be calculated and posted to the primary flight display. According to the company, Cessna's announcement means the CJ3 will be the only aircraft in its class with such equipment delivered as standard. Meanwhile, the same standard-equipment, full-fuel payload will be approximately 70 pounds greater than projected when the aircraft was announced in 2002. The CJ3's revised full-fuel payload has increased from 800 to 870 pounds.

The to-be-certified Citation CJ3 includes the Collins Pro Line 21 avionics system, equipped to be RVSM-compliant. Other avionics features include an Integrated Flight Information System (IFIS) with cursor control panel and enhanced map overlays, dual panel-mounted radio tuning units and the Collins FMS-3000. The Citation CJ3 is designed for single-pilot operation. Its maximum cruise speed is 417 knots at 33,000 feet. With two pilots, full fuel, four passengers and baggage, the CJ3 offers an IFR range of 1,771 nm and a VFR range of 1,900 nm. Cessna has three CJ3 flight-test airplanes in the certification program, which have flown more than 626.7 hours in over 403 flights. Cessna anticipates CJ3 certification in mid-2004 with first customer deliveries in late 2004.

Eclipse Outsources Airframe Components

Eclipse Aviation Corporation announced earlier this month long-term contracts with two firms that will manufacture major components of the company's forthcoming Eclipse 500 microjet. According to Eclipse, Ducommun AeroStructures in California will manufacture all of the fuselage and cockpit skin panels for the airplane while Empresa Nacional de Aeronáutica (ENAER) in Chile will be responsible for the complete nose assembly. “The selection of Ducommun and ENAER reflects Eclipse’s strategy of seeking out the best suppliers worldwide,” said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation. Ducommun is the United States’ largest independent supplier of composite and metal bond structures and assemblies, including aircraft wing spoilers, helicopter blades, flight-control surfaces and engine components. The Ducommun agreement represents one of the largest single contracts ever awarded to the company and has an estimated contract value at projected delivery rates of $120 million. The ENAER agreement has an estimated value of US$110 million. ENAER has more than 70 years of experience in aviation, according to Eclipse, and is one of the most important aeronautic centers in Latin America.

Mercury Air Centers Now Under Allied Capital Umbrella

How much is an FBO chain worth? Well, Allied Capital Corporation's recent deal to purchase Mercury Air Centers Inc., the FBO chain serving 19 airports around the U.S., rang the cash register at $81 million, according to a press release from Allied Capital. The sale closed on April 12 after its original announcement on Oct. 28, 2003. Meanwhile, a press release from Mercury Air Group Inc., the FBO chain's parent company, valued the transaction at "only" $76,300,000, subject to adjustment. Mercury Air Centers comprise the nation's third-largest wholly owned fixed base operations. Owning an FBO chain might not be all that lucrative, though. Said Joseph A. Czyzyk, president and CEO of Mercury Air Group Inc., "For the first time in 50 years, Mercury Air Group will not be burdened with significant debt. After a required transition period, we will begin to focus on the growth of our remaining businesses."

Cessna Celebrates CJ2 Milestone

Cessna Aircraft Company last week announced delivery of the 200th Citation CJ2. The Citation CJ2 was introduced at the 1998 NBAA convention, and first deliveries occurred in November 2000. The 100th CJ2 was delivered in August 2002; to date, the CJ2 fleet has flown over 80,000 flight hours. Unijet, a leading European charter operation based at the Le Bourget Airport in France, is the operator receiving the 200th example. Established in 1967, Unijet currently operates seven aircraft that meet customers’ long-range, mid-size and entry-level aircraft needs. Unijet took delivery of their first Citation, also a CJ2, in July 2003.

TSA Watch I: FAA's Foot-Dragging

This issue's TSA Watch feature includes not one, but two items of interest for readers. The first item is to update readers about something on which AVweb's Business AVflash has reported before: the FAA's failure to comply with the law. As AVweb reported on March 17, the FAA still hasn't submitted a required report to Congress "containing an explanation of the need for" the Washington ADIZ. When we first noted the agency's lack of alacrity, the calendar said the agency was two months late. Now, the FAA is fully three months behind. And counting. AOPA recently reminded Congress about the FAA's failure to comply with its mandate, but none of the other members of aviation's alphabet soup have followed up.

TSA Watch II: TSA's DCA Plan

The second item has to do with the agency's draft plan to once again allow non-scheduled aircraft access at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). As AVweb reported last monthreported last month, David M. Stone, the TSA's acting administrator, told Congress that his agency "is devising a security plan that will allow general aviation and charter operations to resume at DCA." Stone told the panel that his agency planned to present such a plan to an interagency working group as early as within two weeks. Sources tell AVweb that plan is still under development but can't comment on whether it has been submitted to the interagency working group, as promised.

Watch Your Inbox...

...the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on April 28

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