Labace 2011 a winner but future site uncertain

 - August 29, 2011, 10:05 AM

The eighth annual Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition opened August 11 in São Paulo and exceeded its organizer’s expectations, but it closed with uncertainly as to the location of next year’s show.

Unofficial records suggest contract signings at the show amounted to approximately $40 million, and show organizer Associação Brasileira de Aviação Geral (Abag) said the event broke all past records for participation. According to commercial manager Rogério Sautner, there were 15,420 visitors, 586 more than in 2010 despite the increased cost of admission, $R150 ($93) compared with $R90 ($56) last year. He also noted there were a record 170 exhibitors, 20 more than last year, and 67 airplanes on static display, 12 more than last year.

“The 2011 show was sold out three months before it opened,” said Sautner, and “if we had had room” three more airplanes would have attended.

One of the highlights of Labace 2011 was the first-time appearance of an Airbus business jet, an executive ACJ318 belonging to Zurich-based charter operator Fly Comlux. A Comlux Group source noted that the Brazilian presidential aircraft is an executive ACJ319 and that Comlux is frequently called on to engage in charter work throughout Latin America. Airbus v-p of executive and private aviation François Chazelle took note of the growing market in Latin America, and in Brazil in particular, for executive aircraft with greater range and larger cabins.

Infrastructure Concerns

At the opening general session, Francisco Lyra, president of Abag’s administrative council, expressed concern about Brazil’s apparent inattention to its aviation infrastructure, especially in light of the upcoming soccer World Cup in 2014 and Olympic Games scheduled for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

He pointed out that one of Brazil’s goals is the reinvestment of 22 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) back into the country by 2014. That investment, he added, will require investment in business aviation. Brazil, he explained, has 4,072 airports but only 726 have paved runways and just 124 have scheduled airline service. Lyra and others in the aviation industry have expressed concern that Brazil’s aviation infrastructure will not be ready for the upcoming events. “Connectivity equals investment,” he told an audience of more than 200 that included cabinet minister Wagner Bittencourt, head of Brazil’s newly created civil aviation secretariat.

Not openly mentioned by Lyra or others was the fact that Bittencourt had told Abag that he could not stay past the opening as he had to inspect work going on at Guarulhos International Airport, about 15 miles northeast of São Paulo but a good 90-minute drive on a Thursday morning. Abag quickly arranged the “loan” of a helicopter so Bittencourt could return in the afternoon. He did, and the additional three hours at a hearing on the role of business aviation was “an eye-opening experience” for the minister, noted an Abag executive.

Labace Needs a New Venue

Ironically, like Brazilian aviation, Labace is running out of airport space. The show has been held for the past four years at Congonhas Airport, near São Paulo’s city center. But airport authority Infraero wants to demolish the aging hangars where Labace is held to add ramp space for aircraft. Government authority and other permissions are needed for the demolition, and Infraero’s press office told AIN that plans for the space are not finalized. Even if the former VASP Airline hangars and ramp space are available in 2012, the show has already outgrown the space and is looking farther afield.

Abag is considering three possible moves. Campo de Marte Airport is only about four miles from downtown São Paulo, but there are concerns about its accessibility to larger business aircraft. The published runway length is only 5,250 feet; Abag, however, believes a close examination of the runway would prove it to be closer to 6,560 feet, and possibly 8,200 feet. But there is also some question as to whether parts of the runway and ramp parking could support the weight of larger aircraft.

São José dos Campos, the home of Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, is also a possibility. The 9,800-foot runway at the airport there is certainly adequate, but Abag organizers question the quality and quantity of the hotels, despite the city’s reputation as one of Brazil’s most livable. The city is 50 miles from São Paulo and the airport seven miles from the city of São José dos Campos.

Another possible site is Guarulhos International Airport, with the disadvantage of drive time from downtown São Paulo. Other problems include air traffic congestion at one of Brazil’s busiest international airports and one of the least friendly to general aviation.

“So,” said an Abag source, “we have Plan B, Plan C and Plan D, but everybody still hopes for Plan A: that we can remain here and still find room to grow.”

Richard Pedicini contributed to this article.