With Orlando rapidly becoming the NBAA Annual Meeting and Convention’s unofficial home, the area is banking on the event–currently ranked as the nation’s fifth largest tradeshow–to provide a boost to the local economy. According to statistics from the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, NBAA Convention attendees could leave nearly $40 million behind in the hands of the area’s hotels, restaurants and car rental agencies if this year’s attendance numbers equal those of last year’s. However, 2008’s show may have set a record that will be hard to surpass in the current economy.
Less clear is how much revenue the event will generate for the local FBOs that describe the NBAA Convention as business aviation’s Super Bowl. “During the week we should get 700 to 900 aircraft that are not part of the static display,” said Kevin McNamara, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s (GOAA) director of general aviation. “With four local airports, we have more than enough aviation facilities to meet today’s demand as well as growth demands for NBAA and the exhibitors.”
Long before the swarm of aircraft landed, the FBOs were planning and positioning themselves to attract aircraft to their facilities during the week of the convention. “If you know Christmas is coming, and you know Christmas comes every year, wouldn’t you be out shopping so you can try to get a little bit extra here and there?” said Vince Polden, general manager of Avion by Quinn at Sanford Airport. “It’s the same idea here, You want to go after the business, you want to get as many people in house as possible.”
Orlando Executive Airport
Showalter Aviation at Orlando Executive Airport, host of the static display, is one of the largest beneficiaries of the influx of aircraft, but company chairman Bob Showalter downplayed the financial benefits. “It’s profitable for us to put on a show, but it’s not nearly as profitable as people might think,” he said.
“We look at it as an opportunity to showcase our people and our place so that when Orlando is on their itinerary later in the year or even two years from now, they remember that they were well taken care of by us. We always say: ‘If you like what we do this week, come see how we do it when we can really take care of you.’ So that’s what’s really in it for us. [When the show is in Orlando and we can participate,] it probably adds 10 percent to our bottom line, maybe 12 percent, no more.”
Showalter’s neighboring FBO SheltAir saw its ramp packed with around 130 visiting aircraft for last year’s convention, including more than 100 jets, according to general manager Eddie Dussault. Like most of the other area FBOs, SheltAir increased its staffing for the event, doubling its customer service representatives and line personnel with employees from the chain’s other locations. “We geared up on rental cars; we’re planning on 250 and we work closely with Hertz. Other than that, we geared up on fuel and wait for the planes to roll in. I’d say probably another 50,000-plus gallons. We bring in extra trucks and make sure our storage is to capacity and then we have fuel loads on standby with our supplier.” As a ballpark figure, Dussault believes the extra NBAA traffic could generate at least $200,000 in sales for the week.
Orlando International Airport
Increases such as those Dussault mentioned will be a welcome financial boon in a year when FBO activity in the area–as in most of the industry–is down. “Last year it was down compared to prior years, and looking at some of the airport activity currently reported by GOAA, [Orlando International] is down 23 percent compared to last year, and Kissimmee is down about 24 or 25 percent compared to the prior year,” said Nicole Patrone, general manager for Signature Flight Support’s Kissimmee and Orlando International facilities.
During last year’s convention week, Signature hosted more than 300 aircraft at its two facilities, and Patrone said she would be pleased to receive the same amount of traffic this year.
Fellow Orlando International FBO Galaxy Aviation is hoping for an increase on last year’s NBAA number of more than 100 aircraft serviced at its then-new facility, which opened just two weeks prior to the convention. “Our facility was destroyed in Hurricane Charlie several years ago, so we were forced to build new. It came on line just last year,” said general manager Rick Cortez, who added that traffic from NBAA convention-goers nearly tripled a normal peak week of business for the FBO.
Like other chain service providers, Galaxy, which recently added 25,000 sq ft of hangar space, is able to draw on talent from its other Florida bases to swell its roster during the busy week. “We look forward to the show not only for the boost in business, but the opportunity to share experiences with other FBOs and to find out how they are managing during these troubling times,” said Cortez. “It’s the time when the industry gets an opportunity to get together and help each other.”
Kissimmee Gateway Airport
Three other FBOs join Signature Flight Support vying for their share of the NBAA pie at Kissimmee Gateway Airport. The airport has seen the same drop in traffic experienced by others in the region, according to Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, general manager of Kaz Aviation, one of the FBOs. “It’s not so bad, but obviously it could be busier. We’re seeing people a little more hesitant saying, ‘Do we take the King Air down for a week or so, or do we fly commercially?’”
While Kissimmee had contingency plans in place last year to close off a runway for overflow aircraft parking as in previous years, it wasn’t required, said LeBlanc. “In total we probably handled about 80 to 100 jets and turboprops. This year I think we are going to see the same turn out. We’ll probably see a 25- to 30-percent increase on normal operations just from the show.”
Kissimmee Jet Center saw a similar number of aircraft for last year’s show, and general manager Jeanne Hepler said she will again be doubling her staff for this year’s edition, as well as offering volume discounts on fuel.
Atlantic Aviation rounds out the Kissimmee quartet of FBOs, offering handling for aircraft as large as a BBJ.
Orlando Sanford Airport
Of the four Orlando-area airports, Sanford usually experiences the least traffic generated by NBAA Convention attendees. “We don’t usually get a lot of business from it here in Sanford,” said Geoff Lane, operations manager for the Starport FBO. “It picks up a little bit during the show, but nothing significant–usually not more than 20 aircraft during the week.” While the pace is not as frenetic as at the other sites, Lane said some of the show’s attendees prefer the ease of getting in and out that the airport offers.
Like the other area airports, Sanford has also recently experienced financial doldrums. “From July until about February we were pumping between 30 and 60 percent and now we are pretty much back up to normal. October was our worst month; we were at about 30 percent,” said Lane.
Sanford’s other FBO, Avion by Quinn, has been operating under new ownership and management since the end of June and is looking to increase its share of activity from the convention.
General manager Vince Polden believes in old-fashioned customer service. “You’ve got people coming in here for NBAA. They want to fly in, they want to get their car, they want to be taken care of and they want to go. They need their planes done, put in a hangar, fueled up, whatever we’ve got to do to prepare for them to depart.
And we’ve got to do this seamlessly, not once but 50 times, for every customer whether it’s a two-seater or a Gulfstream. You raise the bar of what you are going to do for customer service and customer service is, without a shadow of a doubt, the key to getting people to come back. That’s the bottom line.”