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Babbitt, Karlgaard, Buffenbarger, and Palmer Open 2009 NBAA

Speakers Express Guarded Optimism About The Future, But Not In The Near Term

Speakers at the opening session of the 2009 NBAA Meeting and Convention sounded notes of cautious optimism in a year when business has contracted, jobs have been lost, and the business aviation industry has been targeted by Congress, the White House, and the mainstream press.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt began the session by praising the industry for its safety record and professionalism. "Since 2002, corporate aviation has averaged a fatal accident, only one in every 3.5 million hours. That's an incredible safety record. Commercial aviation is in the same basket with you. Safety records like that start with professionals, just like the ones in this room," Babbitt said. "But, the fact that we have one accident is one to many."

Randy Babbitt

Babbitt said that safety comes from a combination of technology and professionalism in the cockpit. "SMS will help us connect the dots with the data. Professional and mentoring will help us put it all to good use. The discussion of SMS, (and) the need for professionalism all have a common thread, and that thread is you."

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes Magazine and the owner and pilot of a business airplane, gave some historical context on the current economic conditions, and offered some optimism for the future, in not necessarily in the near term. "We were going into what was probably an ordinary recession in 2008, all of a sudden we have this financial lockup of 6 months, and the damage was pretty terrific." Karlgaard said. "The damages caused by that probably makes this recession comparable to '73 and '74. It was the bad recession that didn't need to happen, but it happened through a series of policy errors and now we have to live through this"

Karlgaard says the recovery from this recession may be similar to the late seventies. He foresees a return to inflation, and eventually stagflation, and he predicts a lot of stories that will be written about a "jobless recovery."

Rich Karlgaard

But Karlgaard said the decade of the '70's was good for entrepreneurs. He pointed out that among the companies that were created in the 1970's were Federal Express, Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Intel, and Schwab. "These kinds of recessions clear out the things that don't work," he said, and then quoted Warren Buffett. "When we have these recessions, and the tide drops, we find out who's been swimming with no clothes."

He also pointed out that there is still considerable global economic growth. "China's going to grow 8 percent, India 6 percent, Brazil 5 percent, Australia 5 percent," he said. Of China, he said "I would bet every dollar I have that these people are committed to growth."

"I think there is plenty of reason to be hopeful," Karlgaard concluded. "Short term maybe not so much, but if you look at the history of the 1970's and the innovation that occurred in a lousy economic decade, and you look at what's happening around the planet, and I don't know if a year from now or two years from now we're going to come back as happy as we were two years ago, but I guarantee in three or four years we will."

Strong words.

On the other side of the ledger are the people who build, service, and maintain the airplanes, many of whom are represented by The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Tom Buffenbarger, International President of IAM, delivered a message that labor needs to stand with organizations with the NBAA to preserve jobs. "These are not normal times. Our very survival is at stake," Buffenbarger said. "We can fight our separate fights or fight together as a team. I hope we decide to fight together as a team."  Of the 30,000 lost aerospace jobs in the last year, Buffenbarger said "I want them building airplanes again, and I know you do too."

 

Tom Buffenbarger

Buffenbarger, who often lobbies in Washington CD as well as many state capitols, said those in office often take advantage of the same "perks" as those who fly for business. "I've watched members of Congress play "gotcha" with auto executives. I've watched Senators grandstand on the use of business jets, I've watched as the President of the United States took his shots at this industry. And then I watched as thousands of Machinists Union members were laid off because the policy makers wanted to score political points at our expense."

Buffenbarger has invited President Obama to visit Wichita, Kansas, an invitation that has yet to be accepted. He also called on attendees to contact the White House in an effort to have 8 words placed in the State of the Union speech that will be delivered early next year, or the Republican response: "Business aviation is vital to America's economic recovery."

The meeting also served as the unveiling for three new commercials produced by NBAA for the "No Plane, No Gain" campaign featuring golfer, businessman, and Citation X pilot Arnold Palmer. Palmer said his airplanes have made him a much more effective businessman over the years, operating out of Latrobe, Pennsylvania where there is no scheduled airline service, but also helped him unwind on those days when he had played a poor round of golf.

The meeting concluded with the annual announcement of the winner of the National Aviation Hall of Fame Combs-Gates award. The $20,000 prize went to Sarah Bryn Rickman for the trilogy of books she has written about women serving in the Women's Ferry Command during WWII.

FMI: www.nbaa.org

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