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S&D Conference Takeaways

Picture big smiles. Welcoming hugs. And boundless enthusiasm. The biggest takeaway of the 23rd NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference has to be the vibe. This conference quite possibly brings together the friendliest, most welcoming group of aviation professionals from around the world.

Network, network, network

The physical layout of the show – with rows and rows of 10×10 booth slots – puts all of the exhibitors on a more level playing field. Forget the grand booths you find at the annual ABACE, EBACE and NBAA conventions. The numbers are intimate, too, with 2,000+ attendees and 400 exhibitors. You’re not nearly so overwhelmed. It’s easier to meet and mingle. An opening night reception, dedicated lunch times and nightly events all provide lots of opportunity for interaction. The conference location in the Henry Gonzales Convention Center on San Antonio’s famed River Walk was also a plus, giving attendees the chance to go out together and explore.

Staying connected

Digital continues to grow and enhance the show experience. The use of interactive tools and social media was promoted even more than last year. If you attended and didn’t download the app, you missed out. It proved extremely helpful in time management and prioritization, pushing out notifications of events. It also provided lists of local attractions and quick links to Twitter and Facebook. Attendees took advantage of the conference hashtag, #SDC13.

Everyone loves giveaways

People were drawn to the booths by everything from designer handbags to weekend getaways. Hey, we’re only human. Attendee badges with quickly scanned barcodes made everything smooth and hasslefree, keeping the mood light.

Big issues

That’s not to say that S&D doesn’t deal with serious issues that impact the industry. It does. One of the larger ones was addressed by Rick Snider, senior manager of contracts and compliance for Rockwell Collins flight information solutions commercial systems. He warned schedulers and dispatchers to be on guard for revenue-hungry countries assessing fees on airports and airspace users, both commercial and private. In the UK that includes a per-person air passenger duty on all UK departures starting April 1 that’s twice the rate for private aircraft passengers than those on an airline. In Mexico, new retroactive attempts to collect overflight fees previously not assessed has operators having to pony up payments for flights as far back as 2002. Ouch.

People matter

This is an industry defined by dedicated doers. NBAA President Ed Bolen reminded us that we all have to get engaged in the process of educating Washington on the vital importance of business aviation. He shared lots of data and anecdotal proof that in both good times and bad, aviation provides a competitive advantage. Misperceptions aside, shareholders benefit when a company uses business aviation.

Outstanding Achievement and Leadership Award honoree Gerald Grady spoke about the transformative changes he’s witnessed in his long and illustrious career. The flight dispatch manager for CSX Corporation said, “I started dispatching with a string and a map; now I couldn’t do it without a computer.” Keynote speaker and productivity pro Laura Stack presented much-needed advice on how to prioritize in today’s constantly multitasking, over-extended world. I saw lots of people taking notes. You can bet, I was one of them.

*Originally published in the January 30 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.

Greteman Group Selected to Market National Aviation Consortium

The Air Capital realized a big win last fall when the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) not only secured the largest grant in its history, but was chosen to lead a national consortium. The ambitious charge – develop aviation-manufacturing training curricula that will become the industry standard. Outreach for this initiative will be equally ambitious. But it’s a challenge that Greteman Group, the chosen communications firm, is up to.

“Our agency’s aviation expertise, industry advocacy and longstanding relationship with WATC uniquely position us for this opportunity,” says Sonia Greteman. “You might say we were born to do this.”

WATC’s portion of the $15 million U.S. Department of Labor grant approaches $9 million. It is part of the Obama administration’s $500 million national job-training initiative. The effort emphasizes local employer partnerships. Greteman Group’s efforts will address both employers and students. Scope of services include research, campaign messaging and creative, identity and brand development, website, search engine optimization, television, radio, print, outdoor, email and social media. The campaign will launch mid summer.

“This grant epitomizes public-private collaboration and working together to achieve very critical goals,” says WATC Vice President of Academic Affairs Sheree Utash. “We see Greteman Group as integral to our efforts and look forward to taking this journey together.”

WATC will coordinate efforts among four other community colleges. They include Ivy Tech Community College (Ft. Wayne, Ind.), Guilford Technical Community College (Jamestown, N.C.), Tulsa Community College (Tulsa, Okla.) and Edmonds Community College (Lynnwood, Wash.). Each will work with employers and partners in their respective states. In Wichita, those include Bombardier Learjet, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Spirit AeroSystems, Kansas Board of Regents, Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Commerce’s KANSAS WORKS.

“Establishing national standard aviation credentials creates an educational platform that boosts the quality of employees in the industry,” says John Dieker, Vice President, Strategic Projects, Bombardier Learjet. “The U.S. aviation industry requires a highly skilled workforce so we can continue to push the envelope, using new materials and technologies to travel faster, farther, more efficiently and with less environmental impact.”

Students will receive accelerated training for aviation manufacturing jobs that have gone unfilled due to a shortage of skilled labor. After developing needed core competencies, students can pursue technical certifications in aerostructures, tooling, quality assurance, composites and more. Clear career paths will be tied to employer demand.

About Wichita Area Technical College

Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) provides a high-tech, high-wage, high-demand career pipeline for students. It partners with employers to equip people with relevant skills for jobs today and tomorrow. It houses the National Center for Aviation Training (NCAT), the world’s premier facility for the development of a skilled aviation-manufacturing workforce. NCAT was built by Sedgwick County in 2010 and boasts 220,000 square feet of state-of-the-art training labs and classrooms. Additionally, a portion of its campus is utilized by Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).

Ramp Up the Success of Your eMail Campaigns

With all the new apps and digital solutions hitting the market daily (if not hourly), you may be giving less attention to one of your best interactive marketing options: email. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your next email campaign by following these simple tips.

Choose Wisely

All email service providers (ESP) are not created equal. While each offers the basics, such as list management and subscription controls, some deliver added features that can make your campaigns run better.

Select a provider that can send test emails. Check to see if everything looks the way you want it to before it hits your customer’s inbox. Providers like Campaign Monitor can run a report that shows you how the email will look on the majority of desktop and mobile devices. A real plus.

Clean Up Your Lists

Weed out bad email addresses – those that bounce or never generate feedback. And always work to add quality prospects to your lists. Gather email addresses where your potential customers congregate, online or off, whether it’s a sign-up on your homepage or an enter-to-win opportunity at a trade show.

Build In Triggered eMails

The best communication happens at a key point of relevance. You can set up emails to go out when they’re triggered by an action – say, a customer fills out a survey or buys something from you. They can also be sent on specific dates, like birthdays, or as a scheduled reminder to purchase a product or service.

Be sure the email’s as specific as possible. Keep purchase history and preferences in a database to tailor the message to past actions. Like any communication, use trigger-based emails sparingly. No one wants to be bombarded by multiple emails within a short period of time. Many programs that send trigger-based emails have a frequency limit. Honor those limits. Even better, establish frequency rules for all your promotional emails.

Send When Your Customers Are Checking

The best time to send an email is right before a person checks his inbox, so your email’s near the top. But when is that?

For years there’s been an ongoing debate about the best time and day to send an email. Some reports claim that the open rates between days of the week vary only slightly. Others say the day makes all the difference in the world. The best advice: know your customers. If you’re targeting people on the move – like pilots – it’s less imperative to send between 8 and 5. You can make some general assumptions knowing most people check their email when they start their day and also right after lunch.

Take the guesswork out by testing different times of the day and different days of the week. See what works best. A look at your analytics may reveal that conventional wisdom doesn’t apply for your target audience.

Remember, the Subject Line Matters

Your choice of subject line can make or break an email campaign is the subject line. Make sure yours meets each of these three goals:

  1. Identifies the brand to the viewer.
  2. Communicates the email’s key message.
  3. Prompts the person to open the email.

Concise subject lines, around 24-36 characters, test best. Forget being overly clever. People skim their inboxes quickly. They’ll pass by your email if it’s not immediately clear what it’s about.

Use symbols or small graphics to increase the chance of getting noticed and opened. In one study, airplanes (✈) generated a 10.7% increase in unique open rates, while umbrellas (☂) led to a whopping 50% bump. Note, older email clients like Outlook 2003 or Lotus Notes won’t be able to view special characters, but most modern email clients can without any issues. Test it out.

Think Small for Mobile

Design your emails to work on smaller and smaller screens. Simple adjustments to type and graphic size can make all the difference in how people on the go view and interact with your email.

Using responsive design techniques lets you build one email that looks good on a variety of devices. Or you can build two versions of an email – desktop and mobile – with the correct one displayed as needed.

One of email’s main benefits is the ability to personalize your message. Segment your lists. Know your recipients’ interests, age, location etc. Tailor messages to deliver items of true interest and relevance.

A/B Test For Maximum ROI

Test different versions of your email to discover what’s most effective. A/B testing lets you fine-tune your subject line, body copy, call to action, time of day, and more. Send two versions to a small test segment split in half and see which gets the best results. Based on analytics for this small sample, send the winning approach to the remainder of your list.

Analyze Results and Refine Next Time

Really look at what worked and what didn’t so you can adjust future campaigns for the better. Most email service providers offer comprehensive statistics about who viewed your email, what time they opened it, and if they clicked through to an external link. You can also see what email addresses bounced and should be removed or corrected. Coupled with A/B testing, analytics can incrementally improve open rates and conversions with every campaign you send. If your current ESP isn’t providing this support, give it the boot. eMail’s too valuable to not make the most of it.

*Originally published in the January 24 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.

Seeing the Aviation Glass Half Full

Self-help counselors tell us to set happiness expectations for the day, because that mindset – anticipating good things to come our way – becomes self-fulfilling. We encourage those in business aviation to adopt that philosophy for 2013. While we cannot will aircraft sales into being, we can approach every challenge with a solutions orientation.

Just before the holidays, the Wichita Aero Club hosted its eagerly anticipated On-Air Summit. While panelists spoke about the global aviation industry, they directed most of their comments to Wichita, an aviation cluster especially hard hit by the 2008 recession.

“I’m in the very awkward position of being the optimist,” said Flightglobal editor and panelist Steve Trimble, drawing a laugh from the crowd and fellow panelists.

He followed his sunny projection with solid observations, chiefly that Boeing chose to build its 737 MAX from an existing airframe, allowing Spirit AeroSystems to retain the fuselage work well into the future – essentially until Boeing goes to a clean-sheet aircraft.

Redefining and Reimagining

Panelist and Professional Pilot editor Mike Potts, who worked at Beech earlier in his career, agreed with Hawker Beechcraft’s decision to shed its jet lines and the first part of its name. Emerging from bankruptcy focused on turboprops – the King Air, Baron, Bonanza and military trainers – lets Beechcraft Corp. play to its strength. Panelist and EAA Publications contributor Mac McClellan added, “I’m very excited and bullish about the future for Beech with propeller airplanes.”

Aviation Week editor-in-chief and panelist Bill Garvey wrote an article in 2009 that asked whether Wichita could go the way of Detroit. “I think it’s very telling that we’re still asking that question,” he said. A number of panelists made a case for why Wichita is not and will not become a Detroit. A more diverse economy. A good educational system. A strong infrastructure. Investment in the National Center for Aviation Training.

These advantages create added cause for optimism, they said.

McClellan summarized the difference, saying the auto industry left Detroit, while in Wichita’s case the whole aviation industry has dwindled. That hurts in a community where one in 10 people work in aviation. The yet-to-rebound light and midsize business-aircraft segments continue to generate head-scratching. For a time they couldn’t build those planes fast enough. “What happened?” McClellan asked.

Go Big or Go Home

It seems counterintuitive that planes with a higher price point are outselling their smaller, more pocketbook-friendly brethren.

“The new norm is if an airplane costs more than $45 million it’s going to be successful,” McClellan said. What will happen moving forward, no one knows. “Pistons never recovered to their 1970s level,” said McClellan, “I hope that’s not true of the light and medium business jets.”

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association publications SVP Tom Haines warned that the fiscal cliff – which he called more of a ramp-down – could adversely affect general aviation, saying it “could be chilling on major capital purchases.”

All agreed that general aviation is going through a period of transformation and no one has a clear picture of what it will look like when it comes through on the other side. From a changing customer base to changes in the aircraft themselves. Electric powered. Electronically controlled flight. All composite. Super efficient. Manufactured here, there and everywhere. “I haven’t seen this level of investment in decades,” said Garvey. Yes challenges remain. Fuel prices. Union contract negotiations. Pilot shortages. Governmental issues. Increased globalization. Replacing leaded avgas. Even Wichita’s lack of a deep sea port.

The Will to Win

“I’m optimistic about the future,” said Flying magazine editor-in-chief and panelist Robert Goyer. “People have these aircraft because they’re useful.” Never mind about Wichita’s landlocked status. Its diversified aviation cluster and commitment to innovation and investment can pull it through. “Wichita should stand up and shout what it’s doing.”

We agree there’s cause to be bullish about business aviation. For one, several of the panelists flew their own planes to the summit.

*This article originally appeared in the January 10th issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.