Labace 2009

 - August 27, 2009, 6:31 AM

While much of the world struggles in the grip of a financial crisis, the economies in Latin America–and Brazil in particular–appear stable and even growing.

Organizers expected activity at the sixth annual Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (Labace) to exceed last year’s, despite the downturn affecting business aviation elsewhere–and it did. This year’s event, running August
13 to 15, attracted 110 exhibitors–22 more than in 2008–and showed more than
60 aircraft on the static display, compared with 48 last year.

The six major business aircraft manufacturers were there. Bombardier brought a full-scale fuselage mockup of its new Learjet 85 and for the first time had a pavilion. Gulfstream brought its inventory. Dassault came with a Falcon 7X (squeezing the big trijet into its spot on the static display required almost seven hours and the partial disassembly of a kiosk). Cessna brought its Citation X and Sovereign. Hawker Beechcraft came with everything from Hawkers to King Airs, including its new King Air C90GTx. Lider Aviação, Hawker Beechcraft’s agent in Brazil, showed off the U.S. manufacturer’s latest business jets–the Hawker 900XP and Hawker 750. Embraer, representing the host country, had on display for the first time a Phenom 300 with a finished interior, and for the first time at Labace was exhibiting its new Legacy 500 fuselage mockup.

Associação Brasileira de Aviação Geral (ABAG), Brazil’s general aviation association and the Labace organizing body, expanded the aircraft ramp space by 30 percent and saw it filled, not only with the heavy iron but also with smaller turboprops. The Piaggio Avanti II in new interior livery was on display, as was a Blackhawk XP King Air 90 upgrade with Raisbeck improvements. Brazilian aviation services provider TAM announced at the show that it is the Blackhawk Modifications representative in Brazil.

Also on the ramp was a glass-cockpit Daher-Socata TBM 850 presented by Algar Aviation, along with an array of light singles that included everything from light pistons to the Cirrus V-tail four-seat jet.

Nor was there a lack of news at this year’s event.

Universal Weather & Aviation has just launched a new South American broadcast via its online aviation weather video service. “The addition of this new format allows us to directly meet the needs of the surging South American business aviation community,” said senior director of specialty products Randy Stephens.

Gulfstream revealed plans to include the Jet Aviation facilities in the São Paulo suburb of Sorocaba among its worldwide approved service centers. The Savannah, Ga.-based company expects approval before year-end and service operations to begin next year.

That is not the only service and expansion support growth in the region. Local player Embraer will open its second service center in São Jose dos Campos, Agusta/Westland has begun construction of a São Paulo helicopter support center scheduled to open next year and Dassault Falcon recently opened its new center in Sorocaba. It is Dassault’s first factory service center outside France and North America.

With its 480B now certified and operating in Brazil, Enstrom will be opening a new service center in Mogi das Cruzes. Six Enstroms are operating in Brazil.

Dozens of helicopters and Latin American representatives of the rotorcraft manufacturers were present, including the first Eurocopter EC 145 to enter service
in Latin America, flown by Brazilian operator Helibras.

Helisolutions, a “shared ownership” alternative to fractional ownership with some 300 customers, was showing its Eurocopter AS 350B3 Esquilo. According to Helisolutions president Rogério Andrade, the company expects to expand its fleet by 20 percent this year.

Latin American businesses and entrepreneurs have signaled that they want to expand–beyond national borders and even beyond South America–and aircraft with larger cabins and long legs received particular scrutiny by potential buyers. Attendees waited on lines 20 and 30 people deep for the opportunity to tour the larger aircraft on display–Gulfstream’s G450 and G550, Bombardier’s Global Express XRS, Dassault’s Falcon 7X and Embraer’s Legacy.

The demand for big cabins and long legs isn’t lost on the manufacturers. Dassault Falcon CEO John Rosanvallon told AIN that there are 30 Falcons in service in Brazil alone, there is a backlog for another 15, and of those, seven are for the long-range, large-cabin 7X. He also noted that of the Latin American Fortune 500 companies, 212 are Brazilian. “This market is stable politically and financially, and it is here to stay,” he concluded.

Not all the news on the Latin American front is good, however. Venezuela and Bolivia are financially shaky, and Colombia, despite an economic recovery under way, continues to do battle with the FARC rebels who are receiving considerable support from Venezuela.

That aside, there is the matter of a lack of aviation infrastructure in countries that desperately need airports and upgrades to existing fields and equipment.

Rui Tomaz Aquino, president of ABAG, maintains that Brazil is faced with a government that either fails to see the need to invest in aviation, or simply refuses to do so. The two major roadblocks to growth in general aviation are regulatory issues and lack of infrastructure. He said that the regulations are under review and that ABAG is closely involved in the process.

“What really scares me is the infrastructure,” he continued.

“It is only five years until Brazil hosts the World Cup, and historically the amount of commercial aircraft traffic has doubled in the 60 days leading to the start of the games, and the amount of private aviation traffic has quadrupled,” he explained. “It appears that, in five years, our aviation infrastructure will be no more ready to handle that tremendous increase than it is now.”

In fact, he noted in his address at the opening general session at Labace, “The government recently decided to shut down Campo de Martes Airport, after talking to no one at all.” The decision, Aquino believes, was based on plans to establish a high-speed rail system between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo that would relieve air congestion.

So far, he said, the government has been silent. And he warned, “Silence is the enemy of solutions and of growth.”

Next year’s event will be held at Congonhas Airport from August 12 to 14.