- National Air Transportation Association
National Air Transportation Association Type Not for Profit Founded 1940 Headquarters Alexandria, Virginia, United States Membership General Aviation Companies Field Aviation advocacy Number of Members 2,000 (2010) Key Personnel President: James K. Coyne (since 1994) Website www.nata.aero
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the voice of aviation business, is the public policy group representing the interests of aviation businesses before Congress, federal agencies and state governments. NATA's 2,000 member companies own, operate and service aircraft. These companies provide for the needs of the traveling public by offering services and products to aircraft operators and others such as fuel sales, aircraft maintenance, parts sales, storage, rental, airline servicing, flight training, Part 135 on-demand air charter, fractional aircraft program management and scheduled commuter operations in smaller aircraft. NATA members are a vital link in the aviation industry providing services to the general public, airlines, general aviation and the military.
On the afternoon of Dec. 27, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made an important announcement from the White House.
He told those attending his press conference that he had just approved a Civil Aeronautics Authority plan to boost the private flying industry by annually teaching 20,000 college students to fly. Although the idea had been conceived in a strictly civilian context, its obvious military value could not be overlooked. And so, the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was born.
In essence, the CPTP was a grand design to increase the pilot population by teaching thousands of college students to fly. Right from the start, the CPTP did much to save the flagging general aviation industry. It sent thousands of new pilots into the air and stimulated the manufacture of new aircraft. Of course, not only did the CPTP help a failing sector of the industry remain alive, but it became a vital adjunct to the nation’s defense at a time it was sorely needed.
At first, the military was lukewarm to the idea. Many military leaders did not see any value in civilian pilots who flew little airplanes, regardless of their qualifications. Congressional opinion was sharply divided along partisan lines. Those who believed the United States should build up its air power praised the program; the opposition during these isolationist times called it a terrible waste of public money and considered it part of New Deal war-mongering.
But as the war clouds rolled across Europe in 1939 and 1940, the United States carefully took inventory of its war machine. Every airport, every airman, and all aircraft were catalogued. There would be a need for instructors, trainers and training facilities. Fixed base operators (FBOs) believed the CPTP would be a tremendous boon to business with the nation getting thrust into another war. But the government had different ideas.
On Dec. 13, 1940, the American Aviation Daily reported the government’s intentions:
Preliminary plans are understood to be already drafted by the Army to ground all private flying [in] the U.S. for the duration of the national emergency. What expectations will be made are not known and the ban is not expected unless emergency restrictions are tightened further as this country enters war. The Army will take over all training (including CPTP).
Although private flying groups do not believe that light planes or itinerants offer any danger to the national defense, these groups have not been sufficiently organized to date to state their cases.
Such actions by the government would have surely crippled the civilian side of the aviation industry in the United States. Fortunately for all of us today, there were a few visionaries and firebrands who saw the need for the industry to get organized. Now, with the Army moving in to shut the industry down for the duration of the national emergency, they had to act, and respond quickly to show the government that they were sufficiently organized to state their cases.
On Dec. 28, 1940, shortly after the organizational meeting in Kansas City, Mo., the National Aviation Training Association was officially formed with 83 charter member companies with a goal to push back the heavy hand of Big Government. NATA was instrumental in lobbying congress and reversing the government’s approach to civilian aviation. So much so that NATA not only saved the Civilian Pilot Training Program, it was largely responsible for saving the entire general aviation industry. If NATA had not been formed, civilian aviation would have been banned from our skies and it would have likely been the end of general aviation as we know it. Today’s general aviation industry owes much to the foresight and resiliency of the founders of NATA, William A. Ong and Leslie H. Bowman – the association's first two presidents – as well as George E. Haddaway, John L. Gaylord and others who played a strong role in the organization's formation.
As the war progressed, it became obvious that the United States’ air arm was strong and able, and the allies were winning World War II. As peacetime neared, aviation businessmen met again to renew their strength for the future. Now that the Civilian Pilot Training Program had done its job, the NATA needed to redefine its goals and objectives; it wanted to secure a place for general aviation upon completion of the military effort.
On May 20, 1944, NATA changed its name to the National Aviation Trades Association. Two years later, NATA established a permanent office in Washington, D.C.
In the first years of peace, aviation businesses blossomed. Flight schools were formed overnight – and just as rapidly failed. NATA’s role in Washington increased as government regulations flowed from the peacetime pens of bureaucrats. In November 1949, Charles Parker earned the distinction of becoming NATA’s first paid executive director.
In 1950, a group of NATA members formed what was first a committee called the National Air Taxi Conference. Although there was strong kinship between FBOs and air taxi operators, a split was developing between the interests of the FBOs and their air taxi brethren. Soon, the NATC group broke away from NATA and merged with the newly formed Association of Commuter Airlines. The new association called itself the National Air Transportation Conference.
The reduced membership threatened the life of NATA, and by 1969, a merger with the National Business Aircraft Association, guided by NATA President Frank Kingston Smith, was attempted. It failed and NATA was still on its own. The association faced financial troubles and a shrinking membership. But in late 1973, the National Air Transportation Conference, headed by Thomas S. Miles, agreed to a merger with NATA. When the details of the merger were finalized in March 1974, the group became known as the National Air Transportation Associations. NATA was alive and well again.
The "new" NATA was made up of four component associations, to reflect and respond to the special interests of individual member companies. The Aviation Business Association headed by newcomer Lawrence L. Burian represented FBO interests; the Air Taxi/Charter Association’s leader was A. Martin Macy and represented on-demand air taxi operators; the Air Cargo and Mail Association (ACMA) was led by Janet St. Mark and represented those companies engaged in hauling air freight and contract mail; and the Association’s President Thomas S. Miles was in charge of the Commuter Airline Association.
Unfortunately, the idea of four component associations began to unravel soon after the merger. To no one’s discredit, what was once thought to be an innovative idea actually compartmentalized the organization and rapidly became divisive in nature. In the summer of 1975, the NATA board of directors – composed of three members from each component association – agreed to begin a transition that would see the ACMA and CAA pull up stakes, regroup and form their own independent organization to represent the complex issues of the emerging commuter industry. In the process, many members thought that their dues dollars would be wasted on a dying organization and decided not to renew their membership. So, again, NATA entered a period characterized by a lack of funding and a shrinking membership base.
NATA’s chairman of the board, W.R. “Russ” Miller, refused to give up hope. He and his colleagues knew they needed leaders in the organization who understood the business and would be effective team builders. So they offered the job of president to Larry Burian, one of the few staff members to remain after the September 1975 split.
The next several months were difficult for NATA. At the start of 1976, the association only had 165 member companies that it could clearly identify (dues paid in full), a headquarters staff of four and a scant annual budget of $137,000. But, following a very successful convention and annual meeting in March 1976 in Washington, D.C., things began to change. The four component associations were dissolved. The group decided to change “associations” to “association.” NATA focused on those issues that it knew best by representing the business interests of its FBO and air taxi members. Old members began drifting back, new members took an interest, and within a year after NATA commuters left, the membership base doubled. NATA was truly reborn. The decision of Russ Miller and his fellow directors to persevere through it all – relying on faith, hope and sheer determination – proved to be a good one.
Soon, NATA was again playing a strong leadership role on issues that affected its membership. For instance, in December 1975, the association scored an important win in a long battle with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding price and allocation controls. NATA brokered a 5-cent-a-gallon pass-through allowance on each gallon of retail fuel, allowing FBOs to recover some of their overhead. The first year alone, this legislation returned an estimated $70 million to the industry.
A few years later, NATA achieved its victory. On Feb. 26, 1979, federal price and allocation controls on aviation fuels were lifted. This long and costly battle was won through the successful lobbying effort mounted by NATA, and its ability to gain widespread industry support for the association’s cause.
The manner in which NATA handled the fuel control issue and galvanized the support of most other aviation trade associations proved to be the turning point that firmly reestablished the credibility of the association among its members, the aviation community at large on Capitol Hill and the myriad of federal agencies. NATA was back, as much of a recognized and respected organization that it was at the outbreak of World War II. Only now, with broad membership support and proven leadership, it was stronger than ever.
Today, NATA is widely known for its ability to lobby and track key legislative and regulatory issues, which have specific impact on the business operations of FBOs and air charter companies. The association maintains a constant vigil on common issues that threaten the livelihood of its members.
The industry research performed by NATA’s government and industry affairs department has provided members and others throughout the industry with vital information and highly acclaimed publications, such as The Aviation Industry Guide to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 and the Aviation UST Management Manual.
NATA continually taps into one of the greatest sources of industry expertise – that of its own members. The association maintains standing committees made up of experienced and knowledgeable members – regular and associate members alike – who meet a minimum of three times each year to address important organizational and operational issues. The involvement of members in this way has contributed immensely to the growth of NATA, both in terms of members and the association’s standing in the aviation community.
Looking back at the 1976 convention and annual meeting in Washington, D.C., there was a hint of an industry exposition. There, in the basement lobby of the convention hotel, were five tabletop displays: National Aviation Underwriters, Bell Helicopter, Cooper Airmotive, Beech Aircraft and Van Dusen Aircraft Supplies. The space was free, and NATA paid the $25 per-space electrical hookup. And, as one member put it, “After the general membership meeting was adjourned, everyone piled into two taxi cabs and went to dinner!" That gathering of members, though few, was the harbinger that signaled that better days were ahead for NATA.
By contrast, today's NATA annual convention is considered among the best events in the industry. Today, the annual event makes a substantial contribution to the industry's knowledge base and continues to grow in size each year.
There have been several name changes throughout the years, but the organization has always been known as NATA. And now, as NATA enters its second half-century of industry leadership and service, the association is nearly 2,000 companies strong and fulfills a well-defined role of representing and enhancing the business interests of general aviation service companies. NATA was created and has survived because of the needs of its constituency. It remains, and will remain aggressively strong because of its dedicated membership, a hard-working board of directors and a professional headquarters staff. NATA is an organization that understands the needs of its members and works diligently to fill those needs.
In April 1994, NATA selected former Congressman James K. Coyne as its president. Coyne’s love for and commitment to aviation has been an important facet of his professional and private life. In the 1980s, he regularly flew from Washington to his Pennsylvania district during his term in Congress.
Coyne holds a B.S. degree from Yale and an M.B.A. from Harvard. During the 1970s, he was a faculty member at the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) and the CEO of a family business. He defeated an entrenched incumbent congressman in 1980 and was then chosen to serve in the White House as a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and director of the Office of Private Sector Initiatives. Besides being an author, successful businessman and elected official, Coyne has been an active pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings for the past 25 years. He has over 3,000 hours in his 1967 Beechcraft C-Baron, and also flies a Beechcraft King Air.
As NATA president, Coyne has visited over 400 FBOs and aviation service businesses across the country. He regularly presents the viewpoint of our industry before congressional committees, the FAA and other federal agencies.
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