This year’s NBAA-BACE, the 75th Anniversary edition, was the closest to “normal” that anyone has seen for a couple of years. But what does “normal” mean? And how has that become … abnormal … in the post-pandemic environment?
Teeming crowds and lots of face-to-face interaction are normal at an NBAA-BACE (National Business Aviation Association – Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition) event. This year’s show was held in Orlando, Florida. NBAA-BACE was completely virtual in 2020 and dipped a toe back into the live format last year, when crowds were seen as impressive, “under the circumstances.”
This year, the overall vibe was one of a collective sigh of relief that the show was back to pretty much what it used to be. At times and in places, the convention floor was practically impassable. The opening ceremony was well-attended. The static display at Orlando Executive Airport appeared similarly populated. A random sample of exhibitors at both venues seemed to feel that attendee traffic was solid. It felt a little like waking up from a bad dream.
What used to be called simply “NBAA” became NBAA-BACE a few years ago, reflecting its dual mission of bringing industry stakeholders together to convene, but also to hawk their wares; both B-to-B, and in the case of display aircraft, to potential end-user customers. So, the event combines a wide-ranging slate of meetings, seminars and education sessions with a potent commercial element.
Advocacy is another reason for the show. A large part of that involves defending an industry that can be an easy target for cynicism. NBAA goes to great lengths to spotlight the economic advantages of the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of non-airline air transport for business purposes. The comparison of a traveling salesman’s company car versus a Greyhound or city bus comes to mind. Several years ago, I interviewed Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, co-founders of Taylor Guitars. Their pragmatic and ego-less view of how to use business aviation made them, literally, poster material for NBAA’s efforts to chip away at the overriding public image that all business jets, rather than being invaluable business transportation, are no better than flying luxury yachts for CEOs.
NBAA-BACE is also the place to announce or show off new products, and that is one area where the past two years’ doldrums and global uncertainty continue to slow the return to normalcy. While major airframers such as Bombardier, Gulfstream, Dassault and Textron reported progress with their up-and-coming models, there was not much in the way of “new and shiny” to see. Supply chain issues were blamed for some of the sluggishness, but concerns over the state of the economy, financial issues and labor shortages also contributed.
Finally, on a somewhat personal note: I generally consider myself to be a “small airplane” guy. Given the choice, I’d rather go flying in an RV-8 than a G800. And I truly enjoyed the challenge of flying my vintage V-tail Bonanza under IFR conditions.
But having attended NBAA shows since the early 1990s, one thing I learned early on was that, by far, most of the people involved in business aviation have the same passions as those who prefer the scent of avgas to that of Jet-A. They’ve set their professional paths and made their career choices based, primarily, on doing what they need to do to fly for a living. Many hold a deep attraction for owning and flying smaller GA aircraft on their own time, and it’s interesting how many of them attend EAA AirVenture. They love talking about their passion for personal flying. This is not true in all cases, but many, in my experience.
And the same holds true for those in the plethora of service industries associated with business aviation—marketing, avionics, maintenance, finance, FBOs, insurance—even journalism. While some in the business aviation industry undoubtedly see it as their pathway to riches, I prefer to focus on the majority who are here because they love it.
That’s one reason I still enjoy going to NBAA-BACE, and finally this year, catching up with a lot of close friends.