AIN Blog: A Look in the Rearview Mirror

 - February 2, 2015, 11:48 AM

Sometimes you have to glance at the rearview mirror to get a sense of just how far you’ve come. So I recently pulled from the shelf some 1970s and early-1980s editions of AIN's oldest sister publication, NBAA Convention News.

What struck me first were all the things I didn’t find. There was, of course, no talk of bizjet cabins with Wi-Fi or flat-screen video monitors. There were no fractional aircraft shares or jet cards. Terrorism wasn’t a big issue. Nobody seemed to be complaining about the price of jet-A fuel, which one ad touted at 49 cents a gallon. And speaking of ads, they of course listed no websites.

On the other hand, some of what I discovered seemed strikingly similar to what the aviation world has been talking about in recent years. There were concerns about a recession and its impact on bizav, for example, and I also read an article about how to explain the industry’s value to skeptics.

But the old stories differed markedly from today’s in several key areas, including technology and the roles of women. Here are some examples of what I found:

  • A feature described “diversions planned for wives who accompany their husbands” to the annual convention of the National Business Aviation Association. “The ‘ladies program’ has become a regular (and popular) part” of the proceedings, said the article, and “an attractive alternative to…subjects of unusual tedium to those who have no interest in them.” The story added that “women who prefer to attend the symposiums and view the exhibits are welcome to do so.”
  • Collins Avionics debuted the first color radar system, which it said featured the same Sony Trinitron cathode-ray picture tube that Bendix and RCA used in their TVs.
  • A letter to the editor took issue with an article that claimed to be about the world’s only “lady Learjet captain.” The writer said his wife also flew Learjets and added that she “handles her duties as wife, mother and housewife with equal aplomb with her pilot responsibilities.”
  • James Winant, then president of the NBAA, predicted that it was “remotely possible” that aircraft sales might pick up “if the prime rate, for example, should get down to the 10 to 12 percent area.”  
  • A piece on the forthcoming Falcon 50 promised such features as an “automatic coffeemaker that provides fresh coffee at all times” plus “passenger fresh-air outlets as well as reading table lights.”
  • A report on newly introduced aviation software described requirements for its use as follows: “Apple II or similar computer with 48K RAM (random-access memory), a dual 5.25-in. disk drive, a modem (stands for modulate/demodulate) unit to obtain weather data over the telephone, a video display and a dot-matrix printer.”  
  • An article featured photos of women from 10 aviation companies and invited readers to vote for one of them to be Miss NBAA 1982. 
  • A story on an airborne telephone service described how the system worked: “To place a call, you punch up the nearest station and if it is not in use you receive a dial tone, after which you transmit to the operator. It’s just like a dial operator call from your office. You give your phone number and that of the party you wish to call. Person-to-person calls are best because you are charged only for time talking to the person named. Ground-to-air calling procedures involve getting the mobile operator in the city having the selected ground station. You then give the operator the QM number of the aircraft being called and your own number.”
  • An article reported that “Fred Smith, 29-year-old entrepreneur from Memphis…has sunk at least $10 million of his own and his family’s money” into launching a company called Federal Express, which was using Falcon jets to fly “small packages between Memphis and 34 other airports when most of the nation is sleeping.” Smith wouldn’t say whether the business was making any money but the story noted that he was “talking with several potential investors.”  

Gee, I wonder how that effort turned out.