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Opening Remarks to National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition
Robert L. Sumwalt
Las Vegas, NV

​Good morning and welcome to NBAA!

I have long been a believer in the value of business aviation. When I was growing up, Dad was partner in a construction company that did business in a few southeastern states. His company owned an airplane – a Twin Engine, Aero Commander, N350PK. And, they had a full-time pilot to fly it.

The summer I turned 13, Dad took me with him on a business trip. We started in our hometown of Columbia, SC and flew to Charleston, SC. Dad checked the status of the project there and had lunch with the onsite project team. From there, we flew to Beaufort, SC where he checked in on that job. Then we were off to Toccoa, Georgia, where he did the same thing. We were home by dinnertime. He was able to do in one day, what otherwise would have taken at least two by car.

While the pilot was up front taking care of business, Dad would sit in the back and dictate memos and progress reports of the construction sites he visited.

It was a strategic business tool and one that, no doubt, improved his productivity, as well as that of others in the company.

Best of all, I got to sit in the right seat and watch the pilot. I’ll have to say, it was on that first trip in 1969, that I got bitten by the flying bug. (Although I didn’t actually start my flight training until a few years later.)

Around 1972, the new turboprop they acquired helped them expand their business reach. But, as the energy crisis struck a few years later, their business declined. They didn’t lose sight of how business aviation provided value to their organization. So, instead of getting out of the aviation business altogether, they downsized to a smaller twin-engine recip.

Later in my life, I worked for a company that had two turboprops. The CEO clearly saw the intrinsic value of business aviation. He wanted to improve the quality of life for his employees. And, he was clear that the airplanes weren’t just for those in the C-Suite – they were for rank and file employees who needed to get to business units that weren’t easily accessible by other means. He also felt that his employees needed “slack time,”as he called it, explaining that when people are constantly running around in the heat of the battle, tactically putting out fires all day, it’s hard to focus on strategic initiatives. By providing access to company aircraft, employees could have more time for that kind of thinking. You can’t place a monetary value on such, but the company consistently met or exceeded it financial targets, so they must have been doing something right.

So, I am absolutely convinced in the significant value of business aviation. I’ve seen it first-hand.

But, I’ve also seen first-hand another critically important point. On a foggy morning in 1976, the company plane was flying company employees and their spouses to a convention. Somewhere in the final moments of the flight, while still in clouds, the aircraft drifted left of course and below the glide slope. The aircraft then struck several trees before sliding through a clearing left of the runway centerline. The aircraft burst into flames.

Like the fire that consumed the aircraft, that day is seared into my memory. Why? My mother and father were passengers onboard that aircraft.

I’ve seen firsthand that if the flight can’t be operated safety, the business aircraft isn’t an asset at all. It’s a liability. It can be costly. Safety is good business.

I want to thank NBAA for their commitment to safety - a commitment they’ve demonstrated and time again throughout their 70-year history. Their safety resources are among the best in business aviation. I often turned to those resources when I was running a business aviation flight department, to ensure we were utilizing best practices outlined by NBAA.

NBAA’s safety committee has some of the industry’s best minds, dedicated to helping ensure the highest levels of safety. They have resources devoted to preventing accidents such as Loss of Control (LOC), and enhancing runway safety, risk management, procedural compliance and safety leadership, to name just a few.

NBAA is a strong supporter of, and partner in, the Bombardier Safety Standdown – one of the premier safety events which will be held later this month in Wichita.

And the safety events that are featured this week: Yesterday was the Single Pilot Safety Standdown. This was outstanding event, designed to enhance knowledge to improve safety in single pilot business aviation operations.

On Thursday, my colleague Member Earl Weener will be speak at the National Safety Forum. FAA and other NTSB officials will be on hand to facilitate topics such as fitness for duty, airport and ground handing, and LOC in flight.

One things I really appreciate is NBAA’s straight talk. A few years ago, NTSB issued a safety recommendation for NBAA to work with the business aviation industry to analyze noncompliance with required flight control checks before takeoff. The results of their study, honestly, weren’t highly flattering.

Instead of trying to bury the results, NBAA didn’t try to hide. They were transparent with the issue and took at very hard stance. Ed Bolen stated in no uncertain terms, “complacency and lack of procedural discipline have no place in our profession.” He’s exactly right.

I often say that denial is the enemy of change. NBAA did not deny there was room for improvements. They addressed it head on. Thank you, Ed. Thank you, NBAA.

In closing, have a great time this week. Ask plenty of questions, meet many of people, and, of course, buy lots of things.

Thank you and safe travels!