No doubt there are countless reasons that make this year’s NBAA Convention in Orlando a “don’t miss” event, but for most of us, the highlight this, and every year, is the rampful of aircraft on static display. And it takes countless hours of planning and coordination and a team of nearly 100 professionals to arrange that.
“We started planning for NBAA’12 back in 1996,” explained Kim Showalter, president of Showalter Flying Services, the FBO host of this year’s display. “That’s when we hosted our first NBAA here in Orlando. I have a set of three-ring binders on my bookshelf from each prior NBAA. I take things from past events and move them into the current year’s book. So I know what things need to change and what things can stay the same.”
While the company benefits from drawing on lots of past experience, each NBAA does present new challenges, so continual planning and coordination is key to success.
“We started hosting open monthly meetings with everyone connected to this year’s event last March,” said Brad Elliott, Showalter’s director of new business. “Those attending included our rental car supplier, caterers, the fire department, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, risk management, airport operations, representatives from our FAA control tower and others. If you’re involved at all, you’re invited to attend.”
Sure, you might think that’s a lot of preplanning for a static display, but keep in mind that Showalter is also the host FBO, which means the facility is the first and last experience many NBAA’12 fly-in attendees will have.
“Success comes down to the smallest detail,” Showalter said. “Take coffee: on the last day of the show and the day after we can have 80-plus airplanes all departing by noon and they all want fresh coffee. Some want a gallon of regular and a gallon of decaf. How do we meet their needs?”
“We have a CSR meet every aircraft when it arrives to find out exactly what they want when they depart,” she said. “How much coffee? What newspapers? Ice? Catering? We take care of preparing as much as we possibly can in advance.”
Help from Their Friends
While Showalter’s team of line service and customer service professionals strive to provide exceptional service all-year, as you would expect, their regular crew of 28 couldn’t handle the 10 days of NBAA activities. “We borrow people from our FBO friends all over the country; they come from as far away as North Dakota,” she said. “They send us the very best of their line service people to help out. By the time we’re all done, our staff of 28 swells to nearly 100 people, including volunteers, for the week.”
“We also get a lot of help and cooperation from our based customers,” Elliott added. “We contact them in early August to find out if they plan on flying around NBAA time. Then we contact them again in early October to ask whether or not to move their aircraft out of their hangar. Once we start setting up the static display, we can’t get their airplanes out.”
While you might expect this bit of inconvenience would come with some resistance, Elliott said they have yet to get a complaint. “In fact, most of them want to get involved. They say just leave my airplane and ask what they can do to help out?” he said.
While the vast majority of NBAA attendees understand the effort Showalter’s team puts forth and appreciates their work, every once in a while ‘stuff’ happens. “We had an instance years ago with the crew of a large European executive jet,” Showalter said. “Brad was working with our line service group back then and when he went to talk to the crew, they took a look at the name on his tag and, honestly, they didn’t treat him very well.”
“We don’t stand for that. We have the best people in the business here. Anyway, later that day, my son, Sandy went up to the airplane. He was dressed just like Brad, but his name tag had Showalter on it,” she said. “It was ‘Mr. Showalter this and that…’ Well from that day on, everyone here has the last name Showalter on his or her name tag during the show,” she said. “We have a very ethnically diverse group here and having everyone with the same last name can raise a few eyebrows with our first-time visitors. It’s become an inside joke around here.”
Static display visitors this year might notice the expanded ramp area, which grew by 2.25 acres to 25 acres, all of which has been resurfaced. The Florida Department of Transportation paid for the $1.1 million project, which included repairs to damage sustained eight years ago during Hurricane Charley. “It destroyed several [of our] buildings, but the foundations remained. So did the grass between where those buildings once stood,” said Showalter. “We wanted to make that space usable.”