European officials joined European Business Aviation Association and National Business Aviation Association leaders to kick off the 13th annual European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition on May 21, underscoring the need to work together to shape the future of the air traffic control system and ensure that business aviation has fair and equitable treatment.

“EBACE is shaping up as a very strong show, in sharp contrast to the economic times,” says EBAA CEO Fabio Gamba.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen adds that the show is shaping up to mirror last year’s EBACE. The static display is sold out, he says, and the exhibitor numbers and initial attendance figures are matching those of last year.

The show underscores the growth of the European business aviation community, with 40% of exhibitors based in Europe. But it also comes as the business aviation community faces tough economic times, Bolen and Gamba agree, along with potential actions within the European countries that are adding to those headwinds.

“The economy is tough. When we see onerous restrictions, it compounds the problem,” says Bolen.

Gamba cites efforts in a number of countries to impose new levies and fines, such as the U.K. tax on business aircraft passengers and Italy’s private aircraft levy. Italy saw an immediate drop off in traffic, notes Bolen. Other countries have had similar experiences, Gamba adds.

While business aviation officials see a need to impose taxes, Gamba warns against crippling the industry. “Business aviation is an engine of growth,” he says, and government should not tax the driver of that growth. “Business aviation is making a difference Europe.”

“Policies and taxes have consequences, and it’s up to all of use to challenge those,” Bolen says. “By working together we can do more than we can do individually. Business aviation is a close-knit community.”

This is particularly important as the air traffic control system becomes strained, Gamba says, adding. “We have reached the limits of the system.” This is particularly true for business aviation traffic rights. He sees a growing movement for liberalization worldwide, and says EBAA wants to push for a global approach to improve the rights for all business aviation operations.

Meanwhile, Siim Kallas, vice president of the European Commission, commissioner for Mobility and Transport, sent a message to attendees at the opening general session outlining the obstacles and calling for collaboration for the Single European Sky initiative. He told the audience in a taped briefing that progress has been made, but not enough as Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) gets closer to deployment. Strong implementation plans must be carried out, he says. “It cannot exist just on paper.”

Patrick Ky, of SESER Joint Undertaking, says officials are hoping to move the system forward throughout partnerships and incremental change. “It is extremely complex to make any change in air traffic management.” He stressed the importance of all users collaborating. “Whatever change [is made] will have an impact on all aircraft. It doesn’t make sense to make change in isolation.”

Daniel Weder, CEO of Swiss air navigation services provider Skyguide, expressed concern that “business aviation often takes a backseat in the discussions with air navigations services providers,” but he considers business aircraft operations an important part of the system. “We can do more homework to understand and better integrate [business aviation operations],” he says.