Elections ‘not a factor’ in LABACE date change

 - May 6, 2008, 11:52 AM

Almost all of the corporate aircraft manufacturers have now signed up for the new Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE), to be held next spring in São Paulo, Brazil. Organizers are expecting 300 exhibitors and 3,000 visitors for the event, which has been rescheduled from January 16 to 18 to March 13 to 15.

According to Adalberto Febeliano, executive director of ABAG–the Brazilian business aviation association–the switching of the LABACE dates was driven by revised exhibition hall availability at São Paulo’s TransAmerica convention center and not by uncertainty over the outcome of this month’s Brazilian election. He said that ABAG, which is running LABACE in partnership with NBAA, had always viewed March as a more suitable month for the event but had only been able to book the convention center for January, which is the prime vacation month in Brazil. In August, another show booked for mid-March was switched to another venue.

There has been concern in the business community about the prospect of the left-wing Workers’ Party winning this month’s election. But Febeliano told AIN that this political dimension in the build-up to LABACE has been overstated.

Nonetheless, business interests throughout North and South America are worried about the future of the Free Trade Area of the Americas–a new free-trade zone that is supposed to take effect by the end of 2005. This has become a political hot potato in the Brazilian election, with intense lobbying for both major parties to withdraw from the agreement.

Nevertheless, the newly elected administration will take office in January, and the later dates for LABACE will allow ABAG more time to make contact with the new ministers. The creation of a new National Civil Aviation Agency is expected to be confirmed by the Brazilian Senate later this month, and the agency could be in place by year-end. Previously, civil aviation has come under the direct control of the defense ministry.

To take account of local working hours, LABACE opening hours will be noon to 8 p.m. Informational sessions will be held during the morning and afternoon.

The show will also feature a static display of aircraft at São Paulo Congohas Airport, which is about a 15- to 20-min drive from the convention center. A bus shuttle service will be provided between the two locations.

Bizav Has ‘Huge Potential’

According to ABAG chairman Rui Thomaz de Aquino, business aviation in Brazil has huge potential. There are 2,200 airports throughout a vast country that is larger than the continental U.S., and Brazil’s 198 airlines serve less than 10 percent of these.

“The politicians in Brazil understand that the potential growth of the economy depends on air transportation because we just cannot build roads and railways to connect the whole country,” said de Aquino. São Paulo state is as big as Italy and takes more than eight hours to cross by car.

De Aquino is also president of São Paulo-based executive charter firm Taxi Aereo Marilia (TAM). Around 75 aircraft are currently based at its FBO. TAM is also a Cessna representative and de Aquino said that about 10 percent of the 160 commitments announced for the manufacturer’s new Citation Mustang jet at last month’s NBAA show were placed by Brazilian customers.

The national registry currently shows around 300 corporate jets and 650 turboprops. ABAG believes there is still a strong market for turboprops because of the large number of short, gravel landing strips in Brazil.

“There is a large business aviation market in Brazil, but it is not very well organized and efficient,” Febeliano told AIN. By this he meant that the sales and service provision is still dominated by “middlemen” who push up prices by insisting on a cut from every transaction. One of ABAG’s goals is to make this business more transparent and cost effective.

ABAG also faces similar lobbying challenges to its counterparts in North America and Europe, namely issues such as airport access and user charges and taxes. It also wants to cut bureaucracy and inefficiency in areas such as customs processing.

De Aquino added that many Brazilian airports need upgraded navaids. He said the country’s telecommunications infrastructure is already prepared for the communications navigation surveillance/air traffic management environment.

ABAG lays claim to being the only business aviation association “south of the Rio Grande.” Febeliano said it is encouraging its Latin American neighbors to start their own groups so they can forge a united front in Latin America.

For future LABACE shows, ABAG is considering other South American venues, including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and La Paz, Bolivia. More information about next year’s inaugural event can be found at www.labace.org.