The Santa Ana winds wrapped their unseasonable warmth around attendees at the Southern California NBAA Business Aviation Forum & Static Display held in late March in Long Beach and hosted by AirFlite. The winds literally cleared the air, bringing into view the distant and often obscured San Bernardino Mountains as if to be used as a prominent backdrop specifically for the event.
It was by design more about steak than sizzle. Absent were the elaborate tents, red carpets, decorative flags, plants and podiums that have come to define NBAA’s much larger annual show. Noticeably absent too was the stress. No NBAA golf carts piloted by furrowed-browed, walkie-talkie-toting, crisis-management drivers heading to stomp out the next fire. In fact, the event seemed to adopt the laid-back character of its Southern California surroundings.
Chicago, Fort Worth and Long Beach have all played host to these one-day regional events. The AirFlite hangar, which was emptied of aircraft for the event, seemed the perfect size for the number of exhibitors and visitors, estimated to be 1,600 combined. In addition to housing the exhibits, the hangar served as lecture hall and food court, where guests gorged at the fajita bar, prepared by Mireille’s Inflight Catering.
The major aircraft manufacturers were well represented on the flight line and brought with them a number of aircraft. Rounding out the static display were regional exhibitors, among them a lone pre-owned jet broker, a charter company and maintenance facility. Within the AirFlite FBO itself, other classroom activities were conducted, with topics ranging from aviation security to communicating with senior management.
Cessna chairman Russ Meyer kicked off the event by accentuating the positive, pointing to the roll that general aviation manufacturers as a group have been on. “When the new-order rate began to slow in 2001, most companies still had the luxury of reasonably strong backlogs, which clearly softened the blow and in some cases no doubt delayed the effect on operations by as much as two years.”
While sales are down, aircraft utilization is at record levels. Meyer recounted the austerity moves some companies implemented in the past, by parking or selling their aircraft, which he observed is clearly not the case today. “We are able to track aircraft movements and hourly utilization pretty accurately,” he noted, “and it would be fair to say that business aircraft have become an integral, essential part of a company’s operations.”
Other important differences Meyer cited in this downturn, compared with the last, are the a higher quality of service now provided at general aviation airports, as well as an ATC system in this country that in his view “has never been better.” Meyer also noted the precarious financial condition of the airlines, which has led to consolidation and deterioration of service as another factor that could accelerate a turnaround in the general aviation segment.
“Reducing pre-owned aircraft inventory is really an industry challenge, and all of us involved in selling pre-owned aircraft-manufactures, brokers and refurbishment shops–need to work together to add value for the buyers, increase sales and stabilize this important segment of our industry,” he said.
A Reminiscent Scene
As the event got into full gear, the exhibit hall began to experience a high concentration of individuals clustered around the various booths, a scene strikingly like any NBAA Convention, albeit within a much smaller footprint. Right outside the hangar/exhibit hall was the static-display area, which was reminiscent of the rescheduled and scaled- back show in New Orleans in December 2001.
While perhaps not the magnitude of its nnual event, these undertakings never seem to be without their inherent last-minute challenges. One such obstacle, raised by events in faraway Iraq, presented itself before the show. The static display was to be situated on taxiway Juliet, which would be closed for that day only. Once closed, the display would block access to and from Boeing’s C-17 manufacturing facility.
Under normal circumstances that would have been fine, as no new deliveries were scheduled to take place until after the one-day show–that is, until a general requested his C-17 for early delivery on March 28, in fact, the very day of the NBAA forum. Boeing couldn’t have been more accommodating, to both NBAA and the general, rolling out the nearly completed aircraft and repositioning it on the field for its final prep work.
Boeing therefore had to bus its workers and their tools to and from the remotely located aircraft during three shifts. Perhaps only a few noticed the C-17 take off the morning of March 28. For one, due to the blowing Santa Ana winds, the aircraft departed Runway 12, away from where the crowd was assembled, thereby reducing the noise effect and, secondly, perhaps so the general could get to the Iraq war before it was over, the crew dispensed with the customary low pass and tipping of the wings.
NBAA will continue its Business Aviation Forums, with the next one slated for Farmingdale, N.Y., on June 5.