A smaller-than-usual crowd attended this year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (BACE), but what it lacked in size, it made up for in substance. The new West Hall crackled with energy. More than 100 companies made their event debut. A dedicated innovation section made it extra easy to find the cool stuff. Seriously, having everyone under one roof rocked. Not only was it easier on your feet, it felt more unified and cohesive.

Passion Backed by Perseverance

The show didn’t lack in new products or major announcements – from winglet mods and flight software to aircraft concept unveilings. (Honda Aircraft sure knows how to roll out a mockup.) There was something to see everywhere you looked. And to hear. A pulsing-light, electronic-dance, marching drum corps set the stage for NBAA CEO Ed Bolen’s bullish welcome remarks.

Speakers inspired and moved us – Gold-medal, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor (the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft), visionary Martine Rothblatt (founder of SiriusXM and United Therapeutics), even comedian Rob Riggle. (Did you know he served in the Marine Corps for 23 years, earning 22 medals, practically a medal per year?) Riggle made us laugh with his comment, “The private flight here was one of the main reasons I took the gig.”

A first-ever newsmakers luncheon included PlaneSense CEO George Antoniadis, Directional Aviation Capital Founder Kenn Ricci and Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter talking about the future of on-demand air travel. One of the Air Capital’s own – Russ Meyer – had a prominent presence at the show, too, as co-founder of CitationPartners. He notes that low used aircraft inventory and rising business jet flight hours make it a good time to be in the biz.

Perhaps no company has seen as many changes over the past year as FlightSafety. Its hard-working CEO Brad Thress has spearheaded many initiatives since taking the left seat. In addition to advancing pilot training technology – much of it developed at its simulator manufacturing facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma – this industry leader’s reimagined brand focuses on the benefits of prepared over proficient. Its messages to train smarter and fly safer could be found throughout the hall and show dailies. FlightSafety’s also updating its training methodology. Because proficient is capable. Prepared is unshakable.

A Brave New World

Lots of conversations swirled around the possibilities of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). Revolutionary new aircraft is not the main issue – as was evidenced by the display of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in the emerging technologies zone. The challenge: developing a safe, high-performing air transportation system in places previously not served or underserved by aviation.

We were proud of our client Vantis’s role in that effort and their footprint on the floor. A highlight of #NBAA2021 was the announcement of Thales USA as the system integrator for Vantis. North Dakota’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) network will be the first statewide system in the United States to support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). What does that mean? Business, baby. Think of it as the difference between flying IFR instead of being limited to VFR. Interim Executive Director Trevor Woods did a great job at the press conference on Monday. But then, he has a great story to tell.

Commitment to Go Green

Sustainability proved to be another hot topic. Almost 100 exhibitors signed a green pledge to reduce their carbon footprint at the show, while the convention’s carbon-offset program made it one of aviation’s first carbon-neutral events. All outbound aircraft from Henderson Executive Airport left with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in their tanks. SAF was also available at McCarran International Airport for the first time.

About this time last year, we were helping name, brand and launch Signature Renew. Seeing the fuel truck on the convention floor put us in our happy place. (You can read more about that effort here.) At #NBAA2021, Signature announced its book-and-claim program, enabling the purchase of sustainable aviation fuel credits even where SAF isn’t yet available. Business aviation has committed itself to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 so watch for more and more initiatives that will make that objective a reality.

Missing a Friend

One final, more personal reflection. My colleagues and I sure missed longtime friend and constant NBAA-BACE chauffeur Jack DeBoer, who died last spring. Jack credited his success as an extended-stay hotel pioneer to an early understanding of business aviation’s vital role. In short, he used jets to do deals. He generously gave us a lift to the convention for many, many years.

We loved the ride – especially his Gulfstream – but appreciated the always animated conversation with Jack and his other guests. They were typical of aviation folks. Which means they were atypical. They were freethinkers who put muscle behind their thoughts. Actions behind their dreams.

It wasn’t just the bumped, delayed and rescheduled commercial flights that made us miss our sweet ride. It was the man. Each year, the minute I would get on the plane, Jack’s first question would be, “How’s business?” And like that, we’d be off, talking nonstop till we touched down in Las Vegas or Orlando.

Speaking of which, see you next year in Orlando, Oct. 18-20. We wouldn’t miss it. You shouldn’t either.