NBAA 2013 Report: Annual Show Ends on High Notes

 - November 1, 2013, 3:40 AM
The static display area at Henderson Executive attracted 85 aircraft. For the first time, additional aircraft were on display inside the convention center. Photo: Barry Ambrose

By all accounts, this year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition was an outstanding success, bringing together the usual group of aircraft manufacturers, suppliers, operators, flight crew, mechanics, owners, buyers and anyone with an interest in the world of business aviation.

In an effort to reach out to young people who might be interested in business aviation careers, NBAA invited local youth aged 12 and older to the last day of the show for the “Careers in Business Aviation Day.” Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America (MHIA) held an aviation education night for more than 400 students at Las Vegas Rancho High School during NBAA 2013; among the roster of speakers were Yoshiyuki Ishii, CEO and president of MHIA, and Barrington Irving, founder of the nonprofit organization Experience Aviation and the first black pilot to fly around the world solo. These events were all part of ongoing industry efforts to encourage young people to enter the general aviation field.

At the NBAA show, Jack Pelton, EAA chairman and acting president, shared his concerns about raising interest in aviation among young people. “We’re asking ourselves: ‘Are we offering the right programs to help do this? Where can we best allocate our resources?’ We’re having these discussions, which is really encouraging.” There is no “grand, higher-level plan” on how to boost interest in aviation, he said. “We’re going to do the crawl-walk-run to see where it goes and be more aware of how we can all work together.”

Working together is always a theme at the annual NBAA confab, and a steady stream of attendees and exhibitors kept the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center busier than almost every other show held at the massive facility, augmented, of course, by the static display of aircraft at nearby Henderson Executive Airport.

The airport was the site of what was probably the most highly anticipated event of the show, Dassault Falcon’s unveiling of the 5X large-cabin twinjet, which is expected to spawn an entirely new line of Falcons. There was plenty of other news at the show, but it was not about new aircraft programs. Some orders were announced, too, but few for new aircraft; refurbishments of older airframes seem to be the trend, which says a lot about the quality of the original products and their ability to provide safe and reliable service into the future. Among these announcements were Nextant’s new C90XT refurbished King Air C90 and an agreement with Travel Management Company for conversion of its entire fleet of Hawker 400XPs to the Nextant 400XTi configuration.

Charter Business

The charter business seems hugely healthy, according to indications at the NBAA show, as illustrated not only by the 400XTi contract, but also by the speed with which new-entrant Wheels Up has inked deals for aircraft (a record order for Beechcraft King Air 350i twins) and partnerships (with VistaJet, Gama Charters and JetSuite). At the show, Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture handed over the keys of Wheels Up’s first King Air 350i to company founder Kenny Dichter.

With Directional Aviation Capital swallowing Bombardier’s Flexjet fractional operation, Directional chairman Kenn Ricci lost little time adding to Flexjet’s order for Learjet 85s.

Other manufacturers celebrated their good news, too, with Embraer unveiling a mockup fuselage of its soon-to-fly Legacy 450 and flying the Legacy 500 to Las Vegas for its public debut in North America. Also making another NBAA debut was the ever-cheerful Jackie Chan, who came to shake hands on a deal to become launch customer for the Legacy 500 in China.

Chan wasn’t the only celebrity in town; a visibly moved Harrison Ford was the grateful recipient of the Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership. And Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson, proud holder of a freshly inked Eclipse 550 type rating, was on hand to help Eclipse Aerospace show off the first of its new Eclipse 550 very light jets.

In the midst of the show activity, Gulfstream reported stellar financial results, including doubling deliveries for this year’s third quarter compared to last year.

Cessna inked an agreement to offer Tamarack Aerospace’s active winglets on CitationJet models, a job that will be available from Citation service centers. The winglets improve efficiency without adding excess structural weight to the wing.

Bombardier celebrated the start of deliveries of its latest model, the Learjet 75. Certification was expected any day during the show, but was held up because of the U.S. government shutdown.

NBAA 2013 was also a boon for engine makers, from Snecma’s clear joy at being selected to provide its Silvercrest engine for the Falcon 5X to Pratt & Whitney Canada’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the PT6.

Tempering the relatively positive mood of NBAA 2013 was a clear undercurrent of concern about the government shutdown and the standoff’s effect on business aviation. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta was a no-show, for what appeared to be a dubious reason, and while the usual cadre of FAA managers from afar and inspectors from local jurisdictions just stayed home, four FAA officials were brave enough to participate in the annual “Meet the Regulators” session.

On the night before the last day of the convention, NBAA members of all stripes enjoyed a shared celebration at the NBAA/CAN Soiree, dubbed an Evening With Angels. Held at the Wynn Las Vegas, the event this year kicked off with Beatles tribute band The Fab Four and raised thousands of dollars for the Corporate Angel Network, which arranges free flights on available business aircraft seats for cancer patients needing transport to treatment centers.

This issue of AIN went to press before the end of NBAA 2013, but attendance figures at the end of the second day reached a healthy 25,267 people who strolled through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center (more than 1,100 exhibitors) and visited the sold-out static display (85 aircraft). For the first time, attendees also enjoyed being able to see aircraft flown in for the show but parked inside the Convention Center at NBAA’s indoor static display.