U.S. Firms Back Frugal Airshows

 - March 16, 2007, 9:56 AM

The times, they are a changing. Years ago, during the heyday of new product introductions within a few years of each other and a plethora of international aerospace manufacturers, airshow exhibitors tripped over each other trying to outdo the competition.

Now–with the number of major aviation suppliers greatly reduced through mergers, acquisitions and attrition, longer lifecycles for aging aircraft and development times that often exceed a decade or longer–manufacturers are reassessing the value of the international airshow circuit.

American manufacturers, including some U.S. branches of foreign companies, are taking a fresh look at the numbers and costs of exhibiting at foreign airshows. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has sent a letter to the organizers of the four major aerospace exhibitions–Paris, Farnborough, Singapore and Dubai–suggesting that discussions be held on ways to decrease the costs for exhibitors while maintaining the viability of the major trade shows.

Following last year’s Paris Air Show, AIA formed an ad hoc committee on international airshows. Over the ensuing months it met and surveyed past and future airshow participation among its member companies. Almost all of the large firms said they plan to reduce exhibition space, chalet space and size of delegations for upcoming airshows, although sponsorship of individual show events is expected to remain about the same.

In late November the AIA board of governors adopted a policy statement expressing its concern that the industry cannot support the growing number of trade-related airshows and their increasing costs. While it acknowledged that airshows have a “rich tradition” of providing venues for displaying new products and technology to potential customers, it noted there has been a proliferation of national shows that cater to a local or regional audiences and are oriented more toward the general public than to trade customers.

It is difficult for industry to continue to support a large number of shows, AIA said, because of consolidation of the global aerospace industry, a trend toward fewer new products that stay in production longer and the demands of customers for products at the lowest prices possible.

In the letter to the four major show organizers in late December, AIA expressed a desire to work cooperatively with show managements to find ways to increase flexibility and decrease costs for exhibitors. Examples of such measures might include allowing exhibitors to customize their individual requirements for exhibit space, chalets or ramp space; ensuring competition among service providers to the shows; and reducing the number of trade days.

“You do not need four to five trade days,” said Joel Johnson, AIA v-p for international affairs. “The last day there really is no one out there.” He added that the Paris organizers have already announced that next year’s event will have fewer trade days.

AIA readily acknowledged that the major international airshows continue to provide a useful venue for networking by bringing together hundreds of individuals related to the aerospace industry. Indeed, Johnson noted it would take months of travel in a Gulfstream business jet to meet with the numbers of individuals that can be

AIA refused to characterize its initiatives as demands, although it pointed out that U.S. industries represent between one-third and one-half of the participation in most shows. “Others feel the same way we do,” said John Douglass, president and CEO of AIA, even though show organizers claim they are getting bigger than ever. “We are seeing evidence of shrinkage,” he countered, and if organizers claim otherwise it could be because they are attracting greater numbers of smaller exhibitors.

AIA concedes it will have a difficult sell, in part because the sponsors of the Paris and Farnborough airshows are the French and UK aerospace industry associations, and they make substantial income from the events. A similar attempt to reduce U.S. participation in the mid-1990s was unsuccessful, although Douglass said the forces that drove that initiative “have just gotten worse. We are starting to have an impact.”

Following the Asian Aerospace show in Singapore later this month, AIA plans to discuss its recommendations with the organizers of Paris, Farnborough, Singapore and Dubai. “In the weeks ahead, representatives of AIA will contact you to discuss how such consultations might take place, and what specific changes might be appropriate,” the association wrote. “We hope that such a dialogue can maintain the viability of the major trade shows while meeting the changed needs of our industry.”