LABACE stages successful return

 - August 29, 2007, 5:15 AM

Said by some to be flat on the canvas and awaiting only the referee’s count, the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE) staged a rather remarkable recovery last month, playing to a record number of attendees and signing exhibitors who were demanding more space next year before the show ended.

In the spring of last year, NBAA and Associação Brasileira de Aviação Geral (ABAG) announced cancellation of the 2006 show, citing conflicts with construction at the Congonhas International Airport show site.

According to ABAG president Rui Thomaz de Aquino, the construction was primarily intended to lengthen the main runway, but it was scheduled to begin with taxiways and parking ramps, precluding an aircraft static exhibit on the Varig Engenharia e Manutencao ramp where the show was to be located.

Doubts about the show’s chances of survival were compounded in some quarters when ABAG revealed that it would take the lead role in organizing and managing the show, with NBAA providing promotional support and participation by NBAA president Ed Bolen.

To make matters worse, just as plans for LABACE 2007 were nearing finalization, an Airbus A320 operated by Brazilian carrier TAM crashed off the end of Runway 17R on July 17. All 187 people aboard (and seven more on the ground) were killed by
the impact and subsequent fire, prompting public protests and the temporary closure of the airport.

Nevertheless, ABAG moved ahead. Whatever questions there may have been regarding the future of LABACE appear to have been answered clearly by the three-day run last month.

Exhibitors Will Return
There was no shortage of champagne celebrating the record-breaking event. According to Aquino, 6,041 attendees passed through the gate, an all-time high, and 1,070 more than attended LABACE in 2005. The 71 vendor exhibitors and 35 aircraft on display also established new record numbers.

Aquino noted that preliminary estimates indicate that aircraft manufacturer orders taken at the show were in the neighborhood of $200 million, about $50 million more than ABAG had earlier forecast.

Not only were most of the major business aircraft manufacturers there, but they were well represented by guest chalets, with some pre-fab structures standing two stories tall.

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer brought its new Phenom 100 very light jet to LABACE for its first public appearance and a champagne christening.

According to Jald Jensen, director of Latin American business for Tulsa, Okla.-based Bizjet International, the company had been somewhat reluctant to return to LABACE this year. Now, with the show well and truly in the record books, he said he has already signed up for next year. “We were doing business almost from the moment the gates opened, and we had customers visiting right up to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,” he said.

This year’s revised show schedule gets much of the credit for the success. At previous LABACE events, the exhibit hall and the aircraft static display had closed at 5 p.m., much to the annoyance of Brazilians and other visitors from Latin America, many of whom don’t have dinner before 9 p.m. “This was a move that nicely accommodated the local culture, and we were delighted as well,” said Jensen.

“It was surprising how late activity went on,” said a spokesman for Dassault Falcon, which has a fleet of 20 business jets operating in Brazil. “What’s more, the people visiting were people who know and understand the value of business aviation.” A Gulfstream representative offered a similar evaluation, describing Latin America as “an educated market that understands business aviation.”

Not that there were no problems associated with the show, said one exhibitor. But, he added, they were mostly organizational issues regarding the logistics of media events. For example, the media office wasn’t open on the Wednesday media day during which press briefings were to be held. However, “By the next day everything had been resolved and went smoothly.”

Perhaps the best measure is current response to LABACE 2008. Aquino said some exhibitors have already signed up to attend next year with twice the space they occupied this year, and there are plans to find more space for vendors and aircraft.

LABACE 2008 is scheduled for August 14 to 16 at the VASP facilities on Congonhas International. ABAG officials say there is room to expand the exhibit hall in the VASP hangar, but static display space is likely to remain limited by airport construction.