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.