Safety, Sustainability and AAM take Center Stage in Business Aviation at the recently concluded NBAA-BACE 2023
One of the largest gatherings of the business aviation industry came to a conclusion after three days of business, discussions, display and way forward. The 2023 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), hosted by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), took place from October 17 to October 19. The event not only highlighted the industry’s determination to achieve net-zero flight emissions but also celebrated the innovators and technology propelling this vision forward. The event brought together visionary industry leaders who presented exciting product launches and breakthroughs in propulsion, efficient aircraft, and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that reduce emissions while enhancing mobility. Keynote speakers, including tennis legends Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf, as well as Shark Tank investor and FUBU CEO Daymond John, inspired audiences with stories of resilience and positive change in people’s lives.
The event featured over 800 exhibitors, showcasing innovative concepts, including unmanned aircraft systems and AAM vehicles in the Emerging Tech Pavilion. Henderson Executive Airport and the Las Vegas Convention Center served as the stage for unveiling remarkable new aircraft, including Textron Aviation’s Cessna Citation CJ3 Gen2, the Honda Echelon, Embraer Phenom 100EX, Airbus ACJ220, Beechcraft Denali, and Bombardier’s certified pre-owned Challenger 300.
In an attempt to invest in the Next Generation of Industry Professionals, the NBAA Career Center hosted its inaugural, two-day Career Fair at NBAA-BACE, allowing employers to meet face-to-face with the industry’s best and brightest. NBAA’s Collegiate Connect programme welcomed local students to explore the latest career opportunities in business aviation and network with other young professionals. The 2023 NBAA-BACE Maintenance Competition featured five student teams from area schools, competing in a variety of events to test their skills. NBAA also highlighted its latest class of Business Aviation’s Top 40 Under 40, a diverse roster of professionals who are leading our industry to an exciting future.
The event showcased government-industry collaboration in the pursuit of a sustainable future for aviation. Throughout NBAA-BACE, events such as the Single-Pilot Safety Standdown, the Small Operators Symposium, and the National Safety Forum addressed risk management, runway excursion prevention, and leadership development in small flight departments. Safety was a cornerstone of the drive to decarbonise business aviation. A keynote discussion with NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Deputy Administrator Katie Thomson highlighted their collaborative efforts to enhance aviation safety and efficiency.
SAFETY TAKES CENTER STAGE AT NBAA-BACE 2023
Safety was a pivotal theme at the 2023 NBAA-BACE, reaffirming its central role in business aviation. The event included discussions led by industry safety experts, recognition of safety advocates, and an exploration of safety management systems (SMS) as fundamental to fostering a positive safety culture.
The event shed light on the existence of negative safety cultures, characterised by detrimental attitudes and behaviors, which were identified as obstacles to effective SMS. NTSB member Michael Graham drew attention to how toxic cultures can undermine safety initiatives.
JD Witzig, Vice President of Aviation at Pfizer, highlighted the importance of nurturing a safety culture that extends from frontline employees to upper management. Consistency and dedication were identified as key elements in cultivating such a culture.
The discussions also addressed potential conflicts arising from executive pressures to meet travel objectives that clash with safety culture. Educating executives about safety boundaries and securing strong senior leadership support for chief pilots were deemed crucial.
Chris Rocheleau, NBAA Chief Operating Officer, mentioned the FAA’s transition toward a compliance philosophy and the adoption of voluntary safety reporting programmes to encourage open reporting of potential safety issues without fear of retaliation. To further strengthen a flight department’s safety culture, Bob Rufli from the Air Charter Safety Foundation recommended the appointment of a dedicated safety officer, expediting safety initiatives.
In a separate panel led by Jon Damush of Iris Automatons, Inc., advanced air mobility (AAM) implementation challenges in the National Airspace System were discussed. This included significant regulatory work, such as a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for powered-lift airman certification and operations, as well as policy work on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
The discussion highlighted that UAS operations often rely on waivers and exemptions due to an ill-fitting regulatory framework. The upcoming Part 108 NPRM, focusing on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS operations, aims to reduce the need for exemptions. This shift from waivers to regulations is considered vital for UAS integration into the National Airspace System.
Additionally, the conversation addressed powered-lift aircraft, notably electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. The need for establishing an initial group of certified pilots for these aircraft was emphasised.
Safety remained the central theme, ensuring that innovations in AAM and electric aircraft are developed while upholding safety standards. Collaborative partnerships between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and regulators, along with data sharing and transparency, were highlighted as crucial for constructing safe aircraft for airspace operations.
The continuous advancements in AAM and electric aircraft are bringing the future of sustainable aviation closer to reality. Many AAM operations are targeting commercial service by 2025, but challenges such as infrastructure, operational safety, and airspace integration must be addressed in this evolving landscape.
TREADING A PATH TO NET-ZERO EMISSIONS
NBAA-BACE demonstrated the industry’s commitment to sustainability. SAF was readily available at Las Vegas-area airports. Seventyeight leading companies pledged to reduce their carbon footprint and waste as part of the NBAA-BACE Exhibitor Sustainability Pledge.
The 2023 NBAA-BACE took a determined stance on sustainability, addressing misconceptions and the industry’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This conversation emphasised the crucial role of sustainable practices in the aviation sector.
While aviation’s carbon emissions are relatively small on a global scale, the rate of growth in these emissions is a source of concern. The spotlight fell on SAF as an effective short-term solution for reducing carbon emissions from aviation. SAF stands as a true drop-in replacement for conventional aviation fuels.
Operators were encouraged to contribute to emissions reduction through initiatives like book-and-claim services and carbon credits. These efforts extend to addressing emissions from less obvious sources, such as spilled fuel and de-icing fluids. The importance of embracing sustainability, even through incremental steps, was underlined. The NBAA’s Sustainable Flight Department Accreditation Program was highlighted as a valuable resource for operators aiming to reduce their emissions. The push for a greener aviation industry was seen as an enabler for technology development, benefiting not only the environment but also the aviation sector was underlined.
Business aviation leaders introduced the “Climbing. Fast.” advocacy campaign, emphasising the industry’s pivotal role in sustainability and its commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. This campaign seeks to inform policymakers and thought leaders about the industry’s sustainability endeavors. NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen emphasised, “At NBAABACE, we made clear: business aviation is on a mission to net zero.” The campaign centers on innovations such as ecofriendly aircraft featuring ultra-efficient engines, the production of SAF, and the use of more efficient routing. “Climbing. Fast.” unites ten stakeholder organisations in support of its mission, with the aim of reshaping perceptions about business aviation and sustainability, while nurturing the industry’s commitment to a greener and more sustainable future.
Bombardier unveiled its EcoJet research project’s second test phase to the attendees of NBAA-BACE 2023. The promising flight tests were conducted with an 18-foot-wide demonstrator and have generated important results, contributing to the advancement of this pivotal project.
Bombardier continues its industry-defining work in sustainable aviation by ramping up the second phase of testing on the EcoJet research project by flying an 18-foot-wide test vehicle designed as a blended wing body (BWB) aircraft to reduce business jets emission by up to 50 per cent through a combination of aerodynamic, propulsion and other enhancements.
EcoJet is a sustainability-focused research and technology initiative which started 15 years ago. This project has successfully materialised into a family of Blended Wing Body (BWB) test vehicles, with flight tests being conducted to develop and mature relevant technologies, bound to be applied to more sustainable, future business aircraft.
The 18-foot-wide prototype of Bombardier’s EcoJet research project has flown for the first time in 2022 and can fly autonomously. Flight campaigns on scaled test vehicles allow the organisation and its academic partners to explore the behavior of BWB designed vehicles in free flight. Comprised of several free-flight campaigns, the flight-testing programme will be held over multiple years to generate increasingly precise data in real-world, representative environments.
ADVANCED AIR MOBILITY FOR A SWIFT FUTURE IN AVIATION
A panel led by Jon Damush from Iris Automatons, Inc. scrutinised AAM’s integration into the National Airspace System, reflecting on substantial regulatory advancements. UAS have often navigated a web of regulatory waivers and exemptions due to limitations in the existing framework. Anticipations rested on the forthcoming Part 108 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), primarily addressing BVLOS UAS operations. This proposal could potentially reduce the reliance on waivers for BVLOS operations.
Furthermore, the conversation revolved around the burgeoning eVTOL aircraft industry, where the initial need for certified pilots emerged. Forecasts by industry experts projected certifications for some of these aircraft as early as 2025. The discussion didn’t stop at electric aircraft; it also encompassed hybrid and electric aircraft propulsion systems. Numerous experts emphasised the criticality of dual power sources to ensure safety and efficiency.
In a parallel session, leaders in business aviation vocalised their support for AAM and electric-powered aircraft as pivotal components of the industry’s grand mission: achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. A key theme revolved around the utilisation of multiple fuel sources and the indispensable role of collaboration between OEMs and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in guaranteeing the safety and triumph of these innovations.
Wisk, a subsidiary of Boeing, is currently deep in certification testing for its AAM vehicle, but their vision stretches beyond technology. It encompasses airspace integration and community engagement, recognising the paramount importance of demonstrating safe operations and dispelling misunderstandings regarding AAM.
Amidst the numerous opportunities, a spectrum of challenges emerged. These include ensuring the harmonious coexistence of AAM with traditional aircraft, developing requisite infrastructure, and grappling with the potential burden on regional power grids stemming from AAM operations. Notably, several industry stakeholders are resolute in commencing small-scale commercial AAM operations by 2025, with ambitious targets to achieve this milestone even sooner.
Tim Arel, Chief Operating Officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organisation, laid out the FAA’s “Innovate28” initiative. This blueprint aims for complete integration of all airspace participants, including AAM, in the Los Angeles basin by the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
AAM and the eVTOL industry have been longstanding interests of business aviation stakeholders. Companies like Wisk are advancing AAM technology while ensuring seamless integration into airspace and community acceptance. Challenges remain, but the industry’s determination to commence small-scale AAM operations by 2025 signals an imminent transformation in the aviation landscape. The FAA’s “Innovate28” initiative offers a tangible pathway towards comprehensive airspace integration. Additionally, after a successful introduction two years ago, NBAA again partnered with BLADE Air Mobility to offer a look at the future of on-demand air transportation with by-the-seat helicopter flights between the LVCC and the outdoor aircraft display at Henderson.
SOME KEY HIGHLIGHTS FROM DEALS, DISPLAY AND ANNOUNCEMENTS