I have been going to the NBAA Conference for 20 years. It almost sounds like the start of a joke to say, “I remember my first NBAA…” but the truth is, I do remember it vividly.
It was 1995 and I was working for a thriving business jet manufacturer. The company set up a corporate shuttle with their own flight department for employees to catch a ride to the event. Not everyone in the company got to go, but I was among the lucky. Flying to NBAA in a corporate jet for this annual meeting of the business jet world was a highlight. It might have been one of the last years they extended that opportunity to employees beyond the executive level.
That was what it was all about. Flying with colleagues in a business jet to attend a gathering of the best and brightest of the business jet manufacturing, support equipment, services and aviators in this sector of aviation. I remember walking the halls wide-eyed at all there was to see and later heading over to the static display like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. I was awestruck.
The next year was even better. Although the company didn’t whip up a mini-airline shuttle that year, I got an even more interesting opportunity. I was involved in customer deliveries for new aircraft. Part of my work included a customer walk-around, taking the customer on an acceptance flight to check out all the systems and verify that all was in proper working order, as well as conducting the signing event to transfer ownership.
That year, one customer’s aircraft acceptance was scheduled to take place around the time of NBAA. The customer, based in California, called and asked if we would mind doing the customer acceptance and delivery in Vegas, to coincide with the show since they were planning to attend. Could we meet them there with the aircraft, he asked. Much to my delight my superiors agreed and I flew the aircraft to Las Vegas, met the customer and conducted all our business there – acceptance flight, signing etc. That year I remember staying in the MGM Grand hotel, which had only just opened.
When I moved on to work for another aircraft manufacturer, we often used the opportunity to conduct aircraft specification meetings with clients like CEOs, high wealth individuals, celebrities, future ambassadors and the like. I imagined that the coordination and secrecy we upheld was tantamount to that of the Secret Service doing advance work for a presidential visit. Imagine the cell phones of the 90s, walkie-talkies, limos and back entrances. I’m not sure how we got it all done without smart phones!