Planning an in-person conference for hundreds of attendees while maneuvering the obstacles of a global pandemic was a challenge that none of us ever anticipated. Nevertheless, this was the reality that EJOA and Embraer faced. With careful planning and a bit of luck, we did finally execute a successful “annual” conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee from October 23 through 25, 2021.
Our first concern was the health, safety, and security of our members, sponsors, and exhibitors. Part of that obligation was to quickly identify a venue that could accommodate our group and offer the flexibility to address last minute changes in mandatory health protocols.
In the summer of 2019, we announced that the next conference would be in San Antonio in early June 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives, our board of directors acted early to postpone and reschedule the San Antonio venue for late Spring of 2021. We considered mini conferences and virtual conferences but decided our most viable option was to focus on making San Antonio a successful event in May of 2021.
Well, as we all know, the pandemic did not just ‘go away’. Again, our astute board of directors convened in March of 2021 (even after we had already opened registration for the conference in San Antonio) and through coordination with Embraer made the tough decision to delay the conference yet again. At this point, we were even more determined to make something happen before the end of the year.
Conference venues were now getting booked swiftly and availability was waning. Anticipating a slightly smaller group than in recent years, we chose the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, the site of our 2017 conference, which was available and ready to accommodate our event.
The challenges persisted throughout the planning and preparation period. The COVID-19 Delta Variant appeared and created another wave of uncertainty. Luckily, it subsided in late September and early October, providing a safer window for us to gather and mingle!
Our original selection for a preferred airport / FBO at KJWN required a “Plan B” as the ramp renovation project there did not commence as planned, rendering our intended ramp space inaccessible. So, Plan B took us to Azure Aviation at Smyrna Airport (KMQY). Through no fault of Azure, the late change left the planning team with some logistical shortfalls. No excuses here, but who knew that October is prime wedding season and that all available portable toilets were booked weeks in advance? (Sorry folks!)
Yet, one huge challenge remained. Due to international travel restrictions during the month of October between Brazil and the US, Embraer was unable to have their technical experts join us from Brazil. This meant that their portion of the conference would need to be pared down substantially. Nevertheless, their US-based team was able to coordinate closely with the Brazil-based team and conduct an abbreviated but live virtual session on the last day of the conference.
Worth the Wait
The consensus among those who were able to attend our “annual” conference in Nashville this year was that this event was worth the wait! Check-in commenced on Saturday afternoon this year and our traditional Embraer / EJOA co-sponsored Welcome Reception was held outside that evening in the beautiful Magnolia Courtyard at the Gaylord. Food buffets featured Tennessee favorites as well as a sampling of flavorful hors d’oeuvres from a variety of international menus. The evening’s entertainment was provided by a rising star in country music, Lance Carpenter. Lance was very engaging and shared “the story behind the song” for many of the songs he has written and recorded.
Our general session started on Sunday morning with a keynote address from Peter Agur. Pete is a well-known speaker and consultant in the domain of aviation management and leadership. He is the founder and chairman of the Van Allen Group, a highly respected business aviation consulting firm. Pete’s presentation, “Trust Your Gut,” led us through several of his own
gut-level learning experiences with riveting accounts of his own lessons learned about decision-making and safety. His vivid experiences are supported today with scientific studies that provide analytical insight into why we tend to make the decisions we do, and how to stay ahead of the curve as we rationalize the value of experience versus the realities of aging.
This year’s sessions were organized into four main topical areas; Pre-Owned Market/Tax, Insurance & Training, Safety & Operations and Embraer Topics. Later that afternoon there were breakout sessions on each topic. This provided a more personal and interactive platform for the audience to selectively seek out the presenters for a more focused discussion and Q&A exchange.
EJOA’s Banquet and Live Auction was held Sunday evening in a private ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. The nearly 200 attendees enjoyed cocktails during the reception, followed by a full dinner. Just prior to the auction, we dedicated a few moments to the memory of John Wright Wood, Jr., a member of EJOA since its founding, who passed away unexpectedly at his home on September 21, 2021. Memories of John, his many selfless contributions to the Association, and his ever-present dry wit were shared by Bill Midon, who was one of John’s partners in the ownership and operation of their Phenom 100.
The live auction got underway with a professional auctioneer whom many of you recognized from our auction in 2017. A special “Thank You” to each of the auction item contributors and all the winning bidders! This auction has become a cornerstone of our annual conference and the quantity and value of the auction items donated by our members, sponsors, and exhibitors continues to increase with each event. Proceeds from this auction are applied directly to the operating budget of your EJOA and help make this conference possible each year.
In addition to the auction, our conference sponsors and exhibitors are a critical element in keeping your association up and running. This year’s sponsors included 5 Platinum level, 15 Gold level, 2 Silver level and 2 Contributing level organizations. These sponsors along with 10 additional exhibitors filled our exhibit / break area in the Ryman Exhibit Hall. The combined presence of our presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors gave each attendee numerous opportunities to learn from and engage with industry experts and have access to product-specific information to enhance their Embraer Executive Jet ownership experience.
Monday morning’s activities were hosted and presented by Embraer Services and Support.
US-based Senior Management including Marsha Woelber, Doug Davidson, Steve Friedrich, Frank Stevens, Brad McKeage, and others was present. They shared updates on operations and support topics. Their limited agenda affirmed its value as it proved to be an informative and intimate exchange for all who were present. The morning sessions concluded with a live-streamed video connection to Embraer’s corporate headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil where Johann Bourdais and other senior management joined the Nashville audience for further updates and a candid and informative Q&A session.
Thank you to all our members who were present at this year’s conference. Your commitment and interest continue to make this event, and your Association, a successful, worthwhile and productive endeavor.
See you in San Antonio
Planning is well underway for our 2022 conference when we will finally enjoy the many amenities of the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. Conference dates are June 5 through June 8, 2022. Watch for more details in the coming months through our website, email updates and future editions of Contrails Magazine.
See you there!