Kudos to everyone involved in the masterful planning and execution of EBACE Connect. This first-time event rocked. Cohosted by the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the event provided a magic mix. It leveraged virtual platforms to provide informative, inspiring sessions that were shot and edited to provide the best-possible armchair-attendee experience. As someone who loves learning directly from industry leaders, EBACE Connect gave me (and the rest of my colleagues at Greteman Group) much to chew on.

Here are a few of my highlights.

Erik Lindbergh, Chairman of the Board of the Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, at EBACE Connect
Erik Lindbergh, Chairman of the Board of the Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, at EBACE Connect

A Greener World and Bluer Skies

Seattle’s unrivaled Museum of Flight provided the backdrop for keynote speaker Erik Lindbergh and NBAA CEO Ed Bolen’s talk. It started with footage of Lindbergh’s famous grandfather’s first-ever, solo transatlantic flight in 1927. I’d never seen how the crowds had to push the Spirit of St. Louis along the soggy ground to help get up the speed for takeoff. It gave me chills.

Lindbergh, an aviator and entrepreneur, built upon that kind of communal spirit. Reminding us that together we must, and can, do great things. Regaling listeners with examples of the quickening pace of innovation. We need that can-do encouragement as we pull out of a global pandemic, address supply-chain challenges, explore new fuels and propulsion systems, and push to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation plans to roll out prizes to encourage carbon neutrality, partnering with the XPRIZE Foundation, backed by Elon Musk’s $100 million funding. Lindbergh brimmed with enthusiasm, saying, “Let the competition begin.”

Lindbergh’s setting challenges for himself, too, saying in 2027 he plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight with one of his own – flying a low- or zero-carbon aircraft from New York to Paris. I hope he pulls it off.

Boeing Business Jets President James Detwiler at EBACE Connect
Boeing Business Jets President James Detwiler at EBACE Connect

Listening to the Leaders

The Lightning Round with CEOs was another huge highlight. Topics ranged from responding to the pandemic, finding new customers, articulating the benefits of business aviation, leveraging customers as advocates, promoting diversity, attracting young talent and meeting ongoing challenges. CEOs’ comments were edited and packaged to create a zippy presentation with rapid-fire responses. CEOs participating included:

  • Benoit Defforge, President, Airbus
  • James Detwiler, President, Boeing Business Jets
  • Eric Martel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bombardier
  • Didier Kayat, CEO, Daher
  • Éric Trappier, CEO, Dassault
  • Michael Amalfitano, President and CEO, Embraer
  • Mark Burns, CEO, Gulfstream
  • Markus Bucher, CEO, Pilatus
  • Ron Draper, President and CEO, Textron Aviation

The CEOs, while bullish on aviation, didn’t sugarcoat the challenges facing the industry, particularly supply chain disruptions and constraints with inflation in raw materials and lost capacity in both people and products. All communicated the resilience of business aviation and the essential services it provides. And they defended their industry. “Every airplane that we’ve built in the last 20 years is more efficient in a number of ways, not just in the fuel that we burn and the efficiency of engines, but also by the aerodynamic efficiency,” said Gulfstream CEO Mark Burns.

While they acknowledged 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, they pulled together and adapted as needed – thanks in large part to digital tools. While many might have been working from home, they were still supporting aircraft worldwide. The challenges posed by COVID-19 also highlighted the health and safety benefits of private aviation – and led to a number of first-time buyers of whole aircraft. Is everyone flying privately that can afford to? No, but they’re starting to understand and want that freedom and security. Charter offers an entry point. BBJ President James Detwiler pointed out that roughly one million new customers flew privately last year.

Advanced Air Mobility Moves Forward

One day the Jetsons will have nothing on us. Listening to leaders from electric aircraft developer pioneers Faradair, Pipistrel, Volocopter and Wisk made me a believer that a paradigm shift will be coming. In just a few years their remarkable technological advantages in everything from electric motors and batteries to flight automation will change how we think about private travel. Autonomy is coming. Hopefully public acceptance and regulatory efficiencies are, too.

Possible, Affordable, Climate-Neutral Aviation

Will aviation achieve its carbon neutral goal by 2050? Yes, said speaker Dr. Anthony Patt, professor of climate policy at ETH Zürich. He added that we could see something similar to what has happened for solar and wind electricity – with policies designed to incentivize investment to achieve capacity expansion and cost reductions without imposing excessively high costs on energy users. I like the sound of that.

Coming Together Again In Person

NBAA CEO Ed Bolen at EBACE Connect

Aviation is built upon face-to-face interaction and building relationships, so it’s understandable that this industry embraces tradeshows. Having so many shows go dark last year because of COVID-19 hit us hard.

The thought that we’ll all be together again next October in Vegas for the NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (BACE) fills us with eager anticipation. And next year, EBACE plans to return in person and in full force, May 23-25 at the Palexp just outside of Geneva.

Hope to see you soon.

This column first appeared in BlueSky Business Aviation News.