NBAA Convention preview: Sputtering economy casts a shadow over this month’s event

 - October 1, 2009, 10:14 AM

This year’s 62nd National Business Aviation Association Annual Meeting & Convention (October 20 to 22) probably won’t exceed previous records, but later this month the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., will definitely bustle with exhibitors setting up booths, aircraft arriving at nearby airports and thousands of attendees gathering for a week’s worth of learning, sharing and, hopefully, selling.

Last year, 1,183 exhibitors filled the convention center, and this year’s number is expected to be less than 1,000, according to the NBAA. The static display should see about 120 aircraft, down from last year’s record 139.

Said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, “Even in tough times–maybe especially in tough times–NBAA’s convention will remain a critical event for promoting a positive image of business aviation, conveying valuable operational information and providing an outstanding forum for the hundreds of companies that depend on the show to market their products and communicate with their customers.”

Bottom line: there will be, as always, an amazing number of activities, new products, manufacturers, exhibitors, aircraft and people to see at the NBAA show.
One noticeable difference, however, will be the decision by some companies to minimize their exhibit hall appearances and instead focus on displaying aircraft at the NBAA static display at Orlando Executive Airport. Both Cessna Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft elected to maximize their presence at the static display, while not hosting their normally large exhibit hall booths. Hawker Beechcraft is bringing a Hawker 4000 and 900, a King Air 350 and, according to chairman and CEO Bill Boisture, “We may lighten it up and bring a T-6 [military trainer].”

Manufacturers Focus on the Long Term
Other manufacturers, however, aren’t following suit, and while some displays may be smaller than last year’s, Boeing Business Jets, Bombardier, Embraer, Dassault Falcon and Gulfstream are all planning to exhibit in the convention center and on the static display. Dassault Falcon will bring a 900EX, 2000LX and 7X to the static display and the company has also invited “Falcon family friends” to register to attend the NBAA Convention for free. Dassault is also holding its traditional Falcon family breakfast and celebration of its 2,000th Falcon on October 21.

Boeing Business Jets has a spot reserved to show one airplane on the static display. “We looked at the BBJs on the used market, because we want to show a completed airplane as well as give our customers an opportunity to show the airplane,” explained Steve Taylor, BBJ president and chief pilot. “We thought about not displaying in the exhibit hall, but we continue to think this is an important event for us.”

Bombardier’s static display will feature one each of its current models, a Learjet 45 and 60, Challenger 300 and 605 and a Global, plus a Learjet 85 fuselage mockup with a new interior at the company’s exhibit. “We’re approaching the show as an opportunity to show our stuff and to brag a little bit,” said Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft. “We haven’t scaled back; we think it’s important to be out there and to pass on our key messages.”

Gulfstream hasn’t slowed its product development efforts and will show up at NBAA’09 shortly after rolling out its newest jets in preparation for flight testing. The super midsize G250 is scheduled for roll out in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 6, and the long-range, large-cabin G650 was expected to be rolled out of Gulfstream’s Savannah, Ga., factory on September 29.

Embraer, too, is going full speed ahead with development of its newest jets, the super-midsize Legacy 450 and large-cabin 500. Embraer’s Phenom 300 is still scheduled for certification and first delivery by year-end. “We decided to maintain our investments in the new Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 on schedule,” said president and CEO Frederico Fleury Curado, “with the view that they will be important players when the market rebounds.”

Smaller aircraft manufacturers, such as Quest Aircraft, will exhibit at NBAA’09, too. This year Quest is celebrating a significant milestone; the FAA issued the company a production certificate in mid-September. Quest is now building three Kodiak single-engine utility turboprops per month. “The production certificate will allow us to streamline the production and delivery process over time,” said president and CEO Paul Schaller.

Piaggio America, U.S. arm of the Italian manufacturer of the P.180 Avanti II twin-engine turboprop, is mounting a larger exhibit booth and static display at NBAA to highlight the company’s expanded marketing efforts.

Piaggio America recently doubled its North American sales force to four people to take advantage of increased interest in the P.180. This interest is driven by the turboprop’s much lower operating costs (compared with midsize jets that share the same cabin size), 402-knot top speed and quiet cabin thanks to wings and engines mounted well aft on the fuselage. “In this environment,” Bingham said, “where people are looking at costs, operating costs really matter.”

Announcements Planned
A look at the planned press conferences at NBAA’09 hints at some possible major announcements from companies, such as StandardAero, Jeppesen Sanderson, Garmin International and others, although most companies are careful to keep their plans tightly held if a major new product is forthcoming. New names on the press conference list include PoshAir, a manufacturer of an in-flight sleeping bag, and Stratos Aircraft, the latest entrant in the single-engine personal jet market.

Air Routing is expected to reveal its new one-stop online flight support product and news about the company’s bundled online solutions, including a new runway analysis service, online fuel-stop analyzer, datalink service and online flight-planning program. “Air Routing is continuing research and development during the economic downturn for future flight support solutions,” the company said.

At its booth, Continuum Applied Technology plans to emphasize new capabilities for its Corridor software designed for maintenance providers. New features include the ability to manage multiple currencies, automated weight-and-balance calculation, tracking and reporting and new capability to integrate Corridor with corporate software systems.

Some exhibitors see the recession as an opportunity to highlight their offerings and try to take market share from competitors. “We decided earlier in the year to upsize our booth,” said Rick Ochs, president of Spirit Avionics. “We determined that those operators who will be attending will be well qualified.”

Added Al Toimil, president and CEO of Jet Parts, “We have always supported NBAA conventions through hurricanes, wars, postponements, etc. The convention provides and supports networking, unity and industry intelligence.”

And for the First Time This Year
Events focused on the needs of light business aircraft owners and operators are making their debut at NBAA’09. The association had planned to launch the Light Business Airplane (LBA) show in March but that effort was scuttled by the recession. Now LBA programming is part of the NBAA Convention. Some LBA events include an October 22 single-pilot safety standdown sponsored by Cessna and NBAA, sessions on hiring light jet pilots versus owner flying, choosing the best airplane and other events dedicated to the needs of light airplane owners and operators.

Aviation educators and Falcon 10 owners and pilots John and Martha King are holding a session on October 21 titled, “Making the big step up to owning and flying a jet.”

Newly appointed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt will deliver the keynote speech at the opening general session, his first address at an NBAA convention.

He will be joined by legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, a pilot and Citation X owner, and Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, who is also a pilot and airplane owner.