For the last few weeks I have found myself uttering words that I never thought I’d hear myself say: “I’m going back to China next month.” That follows last year’s even more incredulous “I am going to China.” Before being informed that I would be on AIN’s on-site convention edition staff for last year’s relaunch of the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE), I had approximated the odds of my going to China as about the same as my visiting the moon. Not that it wasn’t on my wishlist, of course; I just didn’t see it happening any time soon.
So it was with a sense of disbelief that I found myself this time a year ago at the Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Service Centre. The show itself was crackling with anticipation, and by the end, most of the exhibitors I spoke with couldn’t wait to put their deposits down to reserve a spot for this year’s show. One even told me that he couldn’t wait to taunt industry peers (who had demurred on attending last year’s show until it was sold out) about what they had missed. The ramp at Hongqiao International Airport was packed with heavy iron and chalets from all the major OEMs. With the exception of the cumbersome, inadequate and expensive on-site food situation (brought on in part by having to conform to stringent airport food quarantine regulations), last year’s show was a resounding success, which even spurred discussion between NBAA and its Chinese hosts on the possibility of building of a dedicated airport exhibition center along the lines of Geneva’s PalExpo (home of EBACE).
Based on those building blocks it will be interesting to see whether the buzz around last year’s show was simply an indication of pent-up demand in the region for the show (previously last held in 2008 and subsequently postponed in successive years due to the global economic malaise), or if 2012’s ABACE helps validate the industry’s hopes for an Asia-led surge in recovery.
Show organizers clearly believe the latter. Nearly 4,000 attendees passed through the show site’s metal detectors last year, and an NBAA spokesman said they are gearing up for approximately 7,000 visitors for this year’s edition (which kicks off on April 16). While 84 percent of the exhibitors are returning this year, the spots of the 16 percent that declined were quickly snapped up, as the overall number of companies will rise from 156 to 175 and there will be several more aircraft in the static display (including Gulfstream’s new flagship, the G650). Whether this show will have the same energy as last year’s will be decided in just a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to witnessing it.
In the meantime, I still find amusement in the thought that while I’m there, I’ll know where to find a good Indian restaurant near Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple.