The 63rd edition of the National Business Aviation Association Convention & Exhibition exceeded the expectations of attendees and exhibitors alike, registering 24,206 attendees for the three-day event–an increase of more than 5 percent over attendance last year. And in marked contrast to the gloom that pervaded last year’s show, optimism prevailed, as did announcements of new aircraft, engine and avionics programs, orders for jets and turboprops and certification of Embraer’s new Legacy 650 large-cabin jet.
On the first day alone, 23,033 visitors passed through the gates, surpassing the total for all three days at NBAA 2009. At the end of the second day, that number climbed to 23,831. This prompted Mike Turner, director of marketing at StandardAero, to note, “Our floor was busy all day and busier than any previous NBAA Convention I have attended [12 of them, to be exact].” And he added that the StandardAero sales force, based on past experience, expects to be generating business from this show “through 2010 and well into 2011.”
For those who thought the 93-aircraft static display at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport was crowded, it could have been even more so–there was a waiting list of airplanes that couldn’t get in. No less a positive sign of recovery was the exhibitor list, which totaled 1,083.
Textron took advantage of the big stage afforded by NBAA to hold its third-quarter investor conference at the convention, giving Textron chairman Scott Donnelly an on-site opportunity to relate his impressions of the event. “Many customers are reaching a point where they’re a year or two beyond what their normal replacement and upgrade cycle would be,” Donnelly said. “So we have a fair number of customers who are looking at getting back in the market. Generally speaking, customers appear to be more optimistic and positive than they were a year ago at the show.”
A Bushel of Orders
In contrast to last year, this year’s show saw some healthy orders and delivery schedules.
Dassault Falcon announced that it expects to deliver a record 85-plus airplanes this year and Italian OEM Piaggio revealed a backlog of 70 airplanes and no “white tails” on the ramp.
Nextant Aerospace announced it received a $150 million order from Flight Options for 40 of the company’s Nextant 400XTs, which is a major upgrade of the Beechjet 400 line. Nextant expects to deliver 11 re-engined 400XTs with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics (some $3 million worth) next year and hopes to see output ramp up to 38 per year by 2014.
NetJets announced the biggest order at the show, plans to purchase up to 125 Phenom 300 light jets from Brazilian OEM Embraer. The deal, valued at slightly more than $1 billion, includes a firm order for 50 Phenom 300s and options on another 75, with deliveries set to begin in 2013. The airplanes will be specially outfitted and branded as the Phenom 300 Premium Edition.
Hawker Beechcraft had cause to cheer with an order for five King Air C90GTx turboprop twins from international representative Corporate Aircraft. The contract is valued at $18.7 million.
And while the economy has certainly had a chilling effect on business aviation, the NBAA Convention has opened a window on efforts by the industry to be prepared with a product when the recovery comes.
HondaJet’s light jet project continues to move forward, with ground testing already begun on the first conforming HondaJet and a first flight to come “in the near future.”
Gulfstream hit the spotlight with the unveiling of its new G650 cabin, featuring its own cabin management system, a 16-g divan that is actually comfortable and a galley fit for Top Chef. While the G650 made an appearance at the NBAA show, it wasn’t parked at the static display. G650 customers did get an opportunity to spend some time viewing the new jet’s interior before it had to return to the flight-test program. Gulfstream also brought one of the G250s in the certification program over from Israel for an appearance at the NBAA static display, the first time the G250 has crossed the Atlantic.
Cessna announced a “tweaked” Citation Ten that will be longer and faster still than its iconic Mach 0.92 brother, the original Citation X. The OEM has selected Garmin’s new G5000 Part 25 avionics package for the Ten. The G5000 is Garmin’s newest avionics suite and the first Part 25 certification that the company will achieve.
Piper Aircraft arrived at NBAA to unveil the PiperJet Altaire, a clean-sheet single-engine personal jet with a bigger and more comfortable cabin than the proof-of-concept PiperJet from which it evolved. The Altaire carries a $2.6 million price tag and is expected to go into service in 2014.
Dassault Falcon arrived with a Falcon 900LX, still green from the factory in Merignac. The big trijet was certified in July and the completion center in Little Rock is already gearing up to meet demand.
Universal Avionics celebrated delivery of its 20,000th FMS at the show, 28 years after unveiling its first FMS at NBAA 1982.
Jeppesen’s newest online digital charting service appears to have caught on, with fractional operator Avantair as the launch customer for eChart. The innovation promises to eliminate the monthly chore of pulling and replacing Jepp chart pages in a loose-leaf binder.
ExxonMobil Aviation and World Fuel Services have jointly launched the Avitat Premier card, a new fuel card for discounted fuel purchases and services at participating Exxon and ExxonMobil Aviation-branded Avitat FBOs in the U.S. and Bahamas.
Inside the Cabin
Cabin electronics were a hot topic as data provider JetNet unveiled a new smartphone app for accessing its Evolution database. It provides a faster, more consistent way to access the latest aircraft intelligence, said Paul Cardarelli, JetNet’s director of sales and marketing.
When Gulfstream introduced its new G650 cabin, one of the more notable aspects of the outfitting was the addition of a Gulfstream app to the passenger’s iPhone that turns the phone into a hand-held control device for everything in the cabin, from window shades to entertainment.
And the Signature FBO chain has announced that it is offering its own iFBO app at no cost. With the app installed in a cellphone, the user has direct access to the latest Signature fuel prices by location, as well as other information.
Apple iPads were this year’s hot booth giveaway, and it’s likely that hundreds of the popular devices made their way into showgoers’ hands. Fuel distributor and flight-handling provider Avfuel gave away 25 iPads.
It would be easy to dismiss this year’s convention, and describe business aviation as, in the words of NBAA president Ed Bolen, “disparaged and discouraged.” It would also, as he quickly added, be a mistake.
“Companies are feeling positive enough about the future to make investments for the coming upturn, on the buy-side, or to consider an exit at a reasonable value on the sell-side,” said Evan Betzer, a principal partner in Stoneworth Financial. Betzer sees merger and acquisition activity heating up and expects company owners who have been sitting on the sidelines to take a much more active interest in selling their businesses in the coming year, he told AIN.
Joe Abrahamson, chief pilot for Leucadia Air of Scottsdale, Ariz., said, “We came here to look at two new aircraft. Now we’re looking at four.” The company, he said, needs to sign the deal before the end of the year to take advantage of the recently approved federal bonus depreciation.