Looking at the glass as half full, Latin American Aeronautical Association founder and president Ernesto Rois-Mendez points to the number of attendees and exhibitors at this year’s 10th anniversary ALA Miami 2003 convention and exhibition as evidence of the continuing interest in business aviation in Latin America.
Last year, the show suffered–as did many aviation events–from the aftereffects of 9/11. According to Rois-Mendez, attendees and exhibitors last year numbered 1,047 and 73, respectively. This year there were 1,082 attendees and 100 exhibitors–a “respectable recovery” and almost the equal of the pre-9/11 2001 show, which drew 1,200 attendees and 105 exhibitors.
Rois-Mendez said the emergence of the LABACE show in São Paulo, Brazil, is unlikely to have an effect on attendance at ALA Miami. LABACE is a Brazilian show, he asserted, while ALA is a more comprehensive show encompassing all aspects of aviation in Latin America, with an emphasis on safety and regulatory issues.
Concerns for safety had a negative effect on aviation last year, but more important, he said, is concern for the growth of aviation as a whole in Latin America. And more troubling than enhanced security and stepped-up passenger screening is the economy, said Rois-Mendez. “When the U.S. economy slows down, the Latin American economy does even worse,” he noted. At the same time, Rois-Mendez returns to the glass-half-full philosophy, noting that “The economy of much of Latin America is having difficulties, but as the U.S. economy improves, so will the economy in Latin America.”
He also cited the influence that politics in Latin America has on the economy. “Some countries–Argentina and Venezuela for example–have political and economic problems.”
In the U.S., Rois-Mendez pointed out, a change in political administrations has minimal effect on business and industry. But in Latin American countries, he explained, there is a large population of poor and a minuscule wealthy population. And because the income distribution is much less equitable, the influence
of politics on this extremely small group of wealthy individuals and businesses is greater, he explained.
Rois-Mendez said in the past two years there has been little or no change in the number of business aviation movements between the U.S. and Latin American countries, “except for a short period after 9/11, when travel was slowed by new security restrictions.”
Standardization of Regulations Not Likely For Latin America
While a standardization of aviation rules, regulations and processes throughout Latin America might be desirable, it is unlikely in the opinion of Rois-Mendez.
It is a common misconception, he explained, that Latin American countries sharing a common language (with the exception of Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken) are much alike. But in reality, he added, “We are actually a single region of 23 different countries and national personalities, [and] while Europeans are good at working together, Latinos are more individualistic, more nationalistic.”
There is nevertheless a small effort to standardize aviation regulations throughout Latin America, said Rois-Mendez, but this individualistic and nationalistic pride is a stumbling block. And he added this effort is more evident in Central America than in South America.
He also pointed out further that in a number of Latin American countries, control of the airways is considered a matter of national security and therefore under military jurisdiction. This presents yet another barrier to standardization.
There are signs of greater international cooperation at a business level where profit is the goal. An example is the contract recently awarded to Colombia’s Vertical Aviation to overhaul the Mexican navy’s 17 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters. The Bogota-based company, which also operates Mi-17 helicopters, formed Heli-Taxi, a 50-50 joint-venture company in Mexico, to bid on the contract.
ALA Promotes Safety First
ALA was originally created by Rois-Mendez with an emphasis on helicopter safety, and not without justification. Ten years after ALA was launched, only the U.S. has a larger fleet of helicopters than Mexico and Brazil.
Today, ALA embraces all aspects of aviation in Latin America, with 1,800 members and some 10,000 readers of its monthly Spanish-language ALA magazine. But the focus continues to remain on safety of flight, and to a lesser degree on more efficient and successful aircraft operations and aviation businesses.
As for accidents, Rois-Mendez said the safety record by scheduled carriers in Latin America has been improving. On the other hand, he noted, general aviation accidents continue to plague the industry. One problem is that enforcement of regulations is not as strict as it should be and, as a result, “a lot of people are flying too casually.” By that, Rois-Mendez said he means that they ignore such requirements as scheduled maintenance or regular inspections.
As for helicopter safety, he said he lacked exact numbers. However, he noted with an expression of regret, “It leaves a lot to be desired.”
The seminars offered during the four-day conference reflected the emphasis on safety and regulatory issues and included sessions on helicopter operations and avoidance of controlled flight into terrain; analysis of requirements for certification of repair shops and maintenance personnel according to FAR Part 14; and cockpit resource management and the prevention of accidents. It is a major aspect of the ALA mission, said Rois-Mendez, to promote aviation knowledge and safety among Latin American operators.
Airport Static Display Brings Out Bizav
A highlight of the convention was the final-day static aircraft display hosted by Miami Executive Aviation at Miami-area Opa Locka Airport. This year’s display had
19 aircraft, including the Embraer Legacy Executive, Piaggio Avanti, Agusta A109 and tiny, two-seat Stolglass from Glass Aircraft de Colombia. The static-display opening was accompanied by a buffet, also sponsored by Miami Executive.
Miami Executive further took advantage of the show to announce a new agreement with Universal Weather & Aviation, making the UVair Fuel Card the preferred card for the FBO’s Platinum Rewards Program. The UVair Fuel Card offers advantages in the form of a negotiated preferred fuel price. Miami Executive’s Platinum Rewards Program gives members gift certificates good at a number of retail stores and hotels, as well as executive concierge and complimentary transfer services. This is the seventh year of the association of ALA and Miami Executive.
Banyan Air Service, an exhibitor at ALA Miami 2003, had news of its own. Walter Rittenhouse, v-p of technical services for the nearby Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport company, said approximately 50 percent of its business comes from Latin America, and to meet growing demand, Banyan is now running two work shifts on weekdays and a single shift on weekends. The company has also put its vendors on 24-hour call to expedite part deliveries.
Banyan is also in the final stages of talks with a major completion and refurb interior components provider that will launch Banyan into the aircraft interior outfitting business. A spokeswoman said Banyan has already signed five aircraft for avionics upgrade and interior refurbishment work.
Looking Forward to ALA Miami 2004
Among the changes to the ALA Miami 2003 schedule was an expansion of the exhibition display from one- and-a-half days to two-and-a-half days. Rois-Mendez said the decision was in response to interest by a number of vendors. Other vendors at this year’s show were apparently not in agreement: on the last day in the exhibit hall, vendors far outnumbered visitors.
As a result, an ALA spokesman said the organization has already decided to go back to the one-and-a-half-day exhibit schedule next year. ALA also plans to add more exhibit space and include more social events. While next year’s exact dates and venue remain to be decided, a spokesman said it will definitely be held in Miami, “probably in late June,” but at a different hotel/convention center.
Rois-Mendez said the Miami location is ideal for most of its ALA members in that the city offers excellent hotels and visitors who only speak Spanish find Miami a comfortable place to visit. “ALA will always be at Miami,” said Rois-Mendez.