AIN Blog: ATC Community Must Decide Between Dueling Conferences

 - March 5, 2012, 3:57 PM

Major players in ATC are meeting in Amsterdam this week for ATC Global, which has long been considered the leading international event for the ATC community. This year’s conference and exhibition will feature more than 200 exhibiting companies and is expected to draw some 5,400 attendees. Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) will be represented there, along with civil aviation authorities, controllers, airports and corporate engineering departments. The Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) Joint Undertaking sponsors an annual break-out forum to report on Sesar’s progress, and Eurocontrol has a major presence.

Now in its 22nd year, however, the conference formerly held in Maastricht, the Netherlands, faces direct competition from a new event—the World ATM Congress—which launches next February 12 to 14 in Madrid. The ATM event (ATM being the acronym for air traffic management) is organized by the Netherlands-based Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (Canso), which represents world ANSPs, in association with the U.S.-based Air Traffic Control Association (Atca). ATC Global, traditionally held in March, is organized by London-based UBM (formerly United Business Media), a diversified media company with 2011 revenues of £972.3 million ($1.5 billion) that says it operates the world’s fourth largest events business.

First unveiled at Atca’s annual conference last October in National Harbor, Md., the World ATM Congress now claims that more than 20 companies are “on board” for the new event, including Airbus, Boeing, Frequentis, Harris, ITT Exelis, Lockheed Martin, Nav Canada, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, Saab Sensis, Sunhillo and Thales. “This week, more than 70 ANSP CEOs will be gathering in Amsterdam for the last time before the ATM industry moves to Madrid for the inaugural World ATM Congress,” Canso declared on its website. “Our industry has been well served by Amsterdam and Maastricht before it, but the time has come for the ATM community to take ownership and run its own annual flagship event,” stated Paul Riemens, Canso chairman and CEO of LVNL, the ANSP for the Netherlands.

While public pronouncements have been cordial, the behind-the-scenes jockeying for the hearts and minds of the ATC community reportedly has been strident, at one point involving dueling emails from the two camps seeking exhibitors. And with the overall cost of exhibiting at such a conference rising into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the schism is forcing companies to decide whether to attend both events or to settle on one. For now, the community has adopted a wait-and-see stance, one industry source told AIN. “Industry is absolutely looking at their budgets and [asking], ‘Where are people going to be?’” the source said. “I don’t think, at the end of the day, most of the industry can do both conferences.”