NBAA Convention News

Masters of the art of static display

 - October 14, 2009, 5:47 AM

With the Orlando venue rapidly assuming the role of the NBAA annual meeting and convention’s “unofficial” home, static display host Showalter Flying Service has become virtually synonymous with the show itself. Having managed the static display since NBAA was first staged in Orlando, the FBO at Executive Airport has become the acknowledged gold standard in dealing with the complexities of displaying more than 100 aircraft.

“We’ve had incredible support from [the people at] Showalter Flying Service throughout the years and we couldn’t do the NBAA Convention in Orlando without them,” said Kathleen Blouin, NBAA’s senior vice president for conventions, seminars and forums. “The Showalters provide as much of their ramp space as NBAA can fill with airplanes and basically allow us to do what we need to in order to put on a spectacular static display of aircraft.”

Spectacular might indeed describe last year’s display at Executive, which set a record in terms of area occupied, filling more than 570,000 sq ft, with 147 aircraft and display pavilions. Bob Showalter, chairman of Showalter Flying Service, understands the preparations required for the onslaught better than anyone with the possible exception of his wife Kim, president of the FBO. “We always say it’s kind of like D-Day and you play the part of the Germans,” he told NBAA Convention News. “If you can imagine being a soldier peering out of a pillbox at the cold English Channel and then all of a sudden this stuff comes at you out of the mist–that’s what an NBAA looks like to a lineman who hasn’t been here before.”

Since it hosted the event just last year, nearly all of Showalter’s staff are multiple-show veterans who have experienced the nonstop pace of smoothly dealing with the arrivals, needs and departures of more than 100 aircraft and their crew, as well as simultaneously handling the FBO’s based and transient customers.

No single FBO has enough ground-handling equipment on hand to deal with the number of NBAA display aircraft, so a key part of the giant jigsaw puzzle that is the static display is the contribution from tow tug manufacturer Lektro (Booth No. 2635). The Oregon-based company has been part of the NBAA convention since 1986 and supplies tugs and operators to swiftly move the arriving aircraft into their preplanned positions. “We’re replaceable,” Showalter said. “I don’t know that Lektro is. The static couldn’t look like it does without the Lektro tug folks because of their ability to move an airplane an inch at a time in almost any direction.”

The planning for this year’s show began months ago and the Showalters have refined the task to a science, keeping detailed notes in an effort to make each successive static display run smoother.

Such calm preparations are in contrast to 2005, when the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans forced the relocation of the show to Orlando with just six weeks to prepare. “The Showalters were there when we really needed them in 2005,” said Blouin. “Kim Showalter told us, ‘You know we’ll do whatever you need us to do.’ In a crisis, it’s nice to know you have friends like that.”  

Having successfully hosted that static display under those circumstances, one could understand the confidence the Showalters feel when allowed months to prepare. “We’ve learned a lot of tricks, and it’s the little things that can make it work,” said Bob Showalter. “We know what kind of equipment we need to have because the hardest part is not the static display but operating all the transients around the static display and trying to give them the kind of service they are used to on any day.”

While hosting the NBAA show does provide a financial incentive to the FBO–Showalter estimates it gives a 10- to 12-percent boost in profits for the year–that isn’t the sole reason for the company to roll out the welcome mat.

“Hopefully when Orlando is on their itinerary later, [pilots and passengers] remember that they were well taken care of by us,” Showalter said. And if visitors enjoy the treatments they receive during the static display, they’ll enjoy even better service when the ramp isn’t crowded with airplanes.