Commentary: EBACE Established

 - October 9, 2007, 12:15 PM

As the curtains fell on the third edition of EBACE (the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition) in Geneva last month, the organizers could feel confident that the strong support for the event in this most difficult of years and most challenging of futures for aviation bodes well for its stature as a significant fixture in the world aerospace calendar. This year the show could be said to have outgrown the label “new” and acquired a new one: “established.”

The final visitor tally stood at 5,984, a healthy 24-percent increase over last year’s attendance tally (4,824). Attendance at the show’s debut in 2001 was 3,620. Exhibitor and exhibit-space totals were both up this year, with the exhibitor count rising by 11 percent to 248 (up from 219 last year) and the occupied exhibit space climbing by more than 13 percent to 615 booth spaces measuring 10 feet by 10 feet (up from 532 last year).

At a time when “people just aren’t buying airplanes,” to quote newly installed Gulfstream Aerospace president Bryan Moss, the people charged with selling and tending for business airplanes certainly gathered in strength in Geneva to rally the cause. EBACE was the first public showing anywhere for the Gulfstream 550; the Challenger 300 showed its face for the first time in Europe; and the revised Beechjet 400A made a surprise first showing anywhere as the Hawker 400XP. Exhibitors polled by AIN at this year’s event were almost invariably highly satisfied with the quality of visitor.

EBACE in fact is highly regarded enough that Cessna, Gulfstream and Raytheon Aircraft had already all decided to give the Paris Air Show a miss this year (it opens this month) in favor of EBACE. It seems likely others are poised to follow suit. Even Falcon Jet, in the opinion of one of its executives, should give thought to pulling out of Paris in favor of EBACE, leaving Dassault’s fighter arm to fly the company flag at the famed French salon. (However, the official company line remains that the French manufacturer of business jets will continue to exhibit at the Paris show.) Business aviation for years has spent a lot of money just to become lost in the crowd of military, airline and aerospace companies peddling their wares in the vast acreage of the biennial Paris and Farnborough shows. Certainly the proximity of the EBACE and Paris shows in the calendar year encourages business-aviation companies to choose one over the other, and the continuing rise of EBACE in stature makes it a growing blip on these companies’ radar screens as they plan their marketing strategies and budgets.

AIN at EBACE this year posed the question of whether the event should remain in Geneva or, like the NBAA Convention in the U.S., whether it should travel around the continent. We asked the question well aware that to some extent it is academic–there are not too many venues suited to the needs of EBACE–but at least the poll would gauge the level of satisfaction with the status quo. To an overwhelming degree, exhibitors and attendees expressed a preference for Geneva, confirming the soundness of EBAA/NBAA’s plan to keep the event at PalExpo in Geneva for at least the next three years.

NBAA v-p of conventions and seminars Kathleen Blouin, while emphasizing above all the suitability of Geneva as the venue of choice, mentioned the pros and cons of three possible alternative sites. Of Cannes, in the south of France: “Not right. It’s a 20-minute drive between the airport and the convention center.” Of Munich, Germany (suggested by some members as a possibility): “We have not looked at it yet.” And of Rimini, Italy: “Difficult to get to.”

Among those who responded to our question, the dominant factor in favor of Geneva is the proximity of the static ramp to the exhibit hall.

“Vendors can meet someone at the booth, and instead of sending them on a 30-minute bus ride to get to the static display, they can say, ‘Let’s step outside and I can show you…’”–operations v-p, FBO. “I’m meeting a gentleman this afternoon who is flying in for the meeting, then flying out again. He doesn’t need to take a taxi or waste time at the airport; he just gets in, does the meeting and gets out.”–v-p, fuel supplier. “Geneva is the place for business aviation here in Europe: easy access, and very nice to have the static display next to the exhibit hall.”–CEO, aircraft cleaning and service company. “I’d like to see the show here for many years to come.”–CEO, aircraft engine parts supplier.

Another recurring theme among exhibitors is the accommodating nature of the people organizing the exhibit hall. “The show should stay here forever from our point of view. This is our most important event, and money well spent.”–aircraft handling company.

Attendees also feel comfortable in this day and age coming to a country renowned for its neutrality. “I would like to see it remain here. For me it is a matter of logistics. Any time a show like this moves around, costs go up. The stability afforded by being in Switzerland is a key factor for me–neutrality has its benefits. The political climate in Switzerland will always allow people to come here without thinking twice about it.”
–COO, manufacturer of cockpit safety equipment.

The city of Geneva itself scored high marks for its appeal and for its welcome. “Geneva seems to think it’s important to have us here, which is good.”–marketing executive, U.S. OEM. “The success of EBACE owes much to the site. The organization and efficiency of Geneva and PalExpo should banish any thoughts about changing a winning formula.”–avionics and parts supplier.

While they were distinctly in the minority, there were those opposed to a fixed EBACE abode. “Since day one, I’ve asked them to consider rotating the show among other cities to stimulate attendance and draw new customers and new exhibitors. Munich comes to mind as a possibility.”–marketing communications manager, flight-training organization.

EBACE returns to Geneva next year and runs from May 25 to 27.