NBAA-BACE 2021 kicked off with a rousing keynote session featuring FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, aviation innovator Martine Rothblatt, cutting-edge inventor Dean Kamen, and NASA Mars Ingenuity helicopter leader Teddy Tzanetos, along with lots of laughs from actor/comedian and retired USMC Lt. Col. Rob Riggle.
Preceded to the stage by a marching drum corps dressed in pulsing illuminated suits one could imagine on the Starship Enterprise’s house band, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen welcomed attendees back after last year’s pandemic-induced virtual event.
“The industry is taking off,” Bolen proclaimed, citing orders for new aircraft, demand for preowned aircraft, and flight activity. “It’s an exciting time to celebrate where we’ve been, where we are, and more importantly, where we want to go,” he said.
Bolen also announced that BACE, the world’s largest business aviation exhibition, is carbon-neutral this year, through offsets purchased from 4Air, and underscoring the gathering’s focus on sustainability.
BACE’s focus on the future this year was personified by Rothblatt, winner of the NBAA Meritorious Service Award. She was introduced by Kaman, who recapped a few of her contributions to aviation, seconded by personal congratulations to her on video from leaders, including former NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt and XPrize founder Peter Diamandis.
Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics to develop an FDA-approved infusion technology to save thousands of youngsters—her daughter included—from a fatal congenital cardiac defect. One of her companies is now developing drones and a drone network to deliver to hospitals fresh organs and tissue for transplants United Therapeutics is developing.
A passionate pilot and business aviation consumer Rothblatt quoted Orville Wright: “You cannot advance technology unless you’re willing to question assumed truth,” and thanked her “amazing flight operations team” as her go-to first consultants when questioning assumptions, often conceived in the air. “When you’re flying straight and level, you have a lot of time to think,” she said.
FAA chief Dickson, outlining some of the forthcoming new technologies, said, “This is the most exciting time in aviation and aerospace since the development of the jet engine” and explained how the FAA will “nurture that innovation while providing a safe and efficient aerospace system.”
The agency’s initiatives include “performance-based rules and regulations, and large doses of collaboration and cooperation with the aviation community.” New rules on commercial space licensing in March will speed innovations. Dickson said the 2021 fiscal year, which ended in September, saw 64 total commercial space ops—more than double 2020’s figures, which included five launches and five reentries.
New Part 23 rules, he said, will expand the capabilities of certificated and light-sport aircraft, among other benefits. The FAA’s new Women and Youth Jobs Task Force aims to help create a path so “any person has a shot, if they have the drive and determination, to take on a career in aerospace.” The FAA has also established a Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation and an internal Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Executive Council.
NASA’s Tzanetos, who led the team that developed Ingenuity, the rotorcraft now operating on Mars, explained the rotorcraft’s mission and displayed video from the Perseverance Mars Rover that captured “our Wright Brothers’ moment,” when Ingenuity rose for the first time from the surface of Mars and hovered for 39 seconds.
Ingenuity has since met all its mission goals and is now taking on additional work scouting locations for the Rover to explore. Tzanetos also showcased next-gen multi-copters capable of carrying scientific payloads that NASA plans to deploy on the Red Planet in the future.
Closing out the keynote session, Riggle took a refreshingly un-businesslike approach in addressing the benefits of private aviation over commercial, starting with a video of his “audition” for a role he wanted in Top Gun II, which humorously put him in the air with the Blue Angels.