LABACE report: Latin American show spreads its wings

 - August 29, 2008, 11:09 AM

Before last month’s Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE), organizers were forecasting the largest show to date. They were not disappointed.

By the end of the second day, the visitor count had exceeded 6,500, some 500 more than attended the entire three-day event last year. Officials for Associação Brasileira de Aviação Geral (ABAG), which sponsors the event, said the final visitor tally came to 11,300, and the total of 108 exhibitors comfortably surpassed the 2007 total of 71. Perhaps more important, preliminary reports suggest that the show, held August 14 to 16 at São Paulo’s Congonhas International Airport, generated well over $300 million in new business by the end of the second day, a $200 million jump from the 2007 total.

Before the show, organizers had forecast as much as $600 million in business, including vendor and supplier deals, for the three-day event. One observer estimated the total value of business at this year’s show to come to about $400 million, a respectable increase over last year’s number.

At the opening general session, outgoing ABAG president Rui Thomaz de Aquino emphasized the market potential for business jets in Latin America, pointing out that 308 aircraft were delivered in the region last year. He also made much of the region’s aging fleet, noting that 52 percent of executive jets and 66 percent of helicopters are at least 15 years old.

A bright spot at the opening general session came from Brazilian Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim, who declared that the country faces a crisis in aviation infrastructure that could threaten progress in what is currently the fastest-growing economy in Latin America. “We need to rethink our aviation infrastructure,” he said, adding that this includes training a new generation of professionals to operate that infrastructure. “We need a sense of urgency.”

Jobim was no doubt looking at an air transport system that is in disarray, even as the country is looking at annual economic growth of 5 percent, the escalating need for aircraft support for recently discovered offshore gas and oil reserves, and the fact that Brazil will be host country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer championship.
“We do not want the assumptions of academicians, but action,” he concluded.

There is an old joke in Brazil that this large nation “is the country of the future–and always will be.”

Said Jobim, “We want to become more than a country of the future. We want to be a country of the present, [and to do this] we must increase our air transport capacity.”

With the continued growth of Latin American economies, and in particular that of Brazil, virtually every business aircraft manufacturer opted to exhibit or display an airplane at the show, and the few who weren’t, such as Airbus, nevertheless had representatives in attendance to assess the show.

Numerous changes distinguished this year’s show from last year’s. Among the most important was a substantial expansion of technical and informational sessions at the Silver Auditorium, from international operations and regulatory changes to visual flight rules and risks and accident prevention. Particular attention was paid to rotary-wing operations in VFR conditions and helicopter ATC in the São Paulo area.

Helicopter operations are no small thing in São Paulo. According to Cleber Mansur, president of the Brazilian Helicopter Pilots Association (Associação Brasileira de Pilots de Helicóptero), there are 470 civil helicopters operating in the state, and 420 of those are based in the city. The association expects to see 50 more helicopters added to that total by 2010. The number of helicopters is expected to stabilize at about 600 helicopters around 2011, he added.

Outside São Paulo, the greatest growth at this time, he said, is in demand from helicopter operators supporting the rapidly growing offshore oil and gas industry.
Well aware that helicopters represent the fastest-growing aviation market in Brazil, LABACE organizers this year set aside a special area for them on the static line, immediately adjacent to the main entrance. Manufacturers AgustaWestland, Bell, Eurocopter and Enstrom had a total of seven rotorcraft on display.

According to Aquino, LABACE puts a face on business aviation and emphasizes the need for the industry as Brazil continues to grow. He has pointed out in the past that of 5,563 Brazilian municipalities more than 50 percent have some type of runway, yet only 140 are served by regular commercial flights. “This favors executive aviation,” he said.

Organizer ABAG is now facing the possibility of finding a new venue. According to incoming president Ricardo Nogueira there is some question about whether the conveniently located space at the old VASP hangars will be available next year and if there will be room for the growing event. “We are considering those options and reviewing the 2008 show to see what changes we might make in 2009,” he added.
The date for LABACE 2009 remains to be determined.