Local FBOs hang out the welcome signs
The static display is one of the highlights of each year’s NBAA Convention, where manufacturers and operators show off their crown jewels before potential customers and competitors. With a sold out display at Fulton County Airport-Brown Field (FTY)–this year including nearly 90 aircraft–the host FBOs need the logistical support and organizational skills of an aircraft carrier deck boss to keep everything running smoothly.
Since March, members of the local static display committee have met with NBAA officials to coordinate that part of the convention, which has taken over Fulton County Airport for the first time since 1989. Larry Westbrook, recently named president at Hill Aircraft, one of the host FBOs (the other is Hawker Beechcraft), was there in 1989 and has seen differences in the annual show since. “The biggest change with the static display over the years has been the size of the display areas,” he said. “Where in the old days the vendors would put up a tent or maybe two and operate that way, now they actually come in a week ahead of time and build a small village for their display area, so it’s quite elaborate.”
Along with almost doubling the number of aircraft in the static display, another major change since the last time the airport hosted the event is in the actual aircraft themselves. “In 1989 there was no such thing as a Boeing Business Jet or a Global Express or a G550,” said Westbrook. “The airplanes have grown in size, which creates problems in space and the ability to move them.” For advice, Westbrook has communicated with Bob and Kim Showalter, whose FBO hosted last year’s static display in Orlando, Fla. In addition, during last year’s convention, Hill Aircraft sent two of their top employees to Florida to assist and take notes.
Further complicating matters is the limited space available at Fulton County Airport, which is smaller than other venues that have hosted the display. As far back as the middle of July, organizers faced with a sold-out static display were still fielding calls from vendors eager to display their aircraft, according to Marti Smith, NBAA’s director of regional forums and static displays. With the plans of exhibitors changing right up until show time, Smith vowed to fill “every inch they can.”
Not only do the airport FBOs have to deal with all the aircraft on display, they also have to accommodate their regular customers and transient aircraft. “At one point in ’89 there were 425 airplanes parked visibly on the ramp somewhere on the airport, including the static,” Westbrook said. “Not only corporate executives taking their aircraft down, but our regular base customers as well. We have a number of corporations that are based with us that operate a pretty regular schedule with their own private airplanes, and we’ve got to continue to take care of those folks as well.” This week Westbrook is expecting the airport will see an influx of between 600 and 700 aircraft.
Experience in hosting a previous static display has proven useful for Hill Aviation. Preparations for the veritable flood of aircraft include bringing in more staff. Some reinforcement will come from company alumni–former or retired employees, many of whom worked previous NBAA shows, while others will come from Hill’s business network. “We’re a Chevron FBO. We’re working with [the fuel provider] on a similar program to what they do at Oshkosh, called the All Star program, where some of the Chevron FBOs send one of their top line service or customer service people to the show to work,” said Westbrook. “It would be a good experience for them to be here and we can certainly use the extra manpower.”
To service the crush of aircraft, the FBOs have brought in extra supplies, including everything from bottled water to golf carts. “One of the things that we’re really concentrating on the most as far as stockpiling or logistically planning delivery of is aircraft fuel. I would say we will probably pump somewhere in the neighborhood
of 150,000 gallons [this] week, and we typically pump about 120,000 gallons a month.” To satisfy this demand, Hill Aircraft had Chevron send in extra fuel trucks.
While the airport is being dominated by the static display for nearly a week, its regular tenants, including the flight departments for Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Bell South, Georgia-Pacific and Southern Company, still need to operate as usual. While these companies have been informed, and in some cases involved with the event planning, some still admitted to some nervousness before the start of the show.
“Security. That’s probably that only thing that does concern me,” said Bill McBride, Home Depot’s director of flight operations. “The airport has standard eight-foot fencing all around, but we are surrounded by hills so people can look down upon us.
I’m sure there are going to be a bunch of people in the community that are going to want to come out and see the aircraft. This is a very small airport, so I think from a security perspective we’re going to be on a very high alert because realistically you could throw a rock to some of these airplanes and fuel farms.”
According to Westbrook, NBAA’s own security staff is supported by a police precinct that has been located on the airport grounds since just after 9/11. There is also a state patrol post. “You know the old saying, if someone wants to get you bad enough, they will, but I think we’re going to have plenty of protection,” he said.
In the weeks leading up to the convention, Hill Aircraft’s staff ramped up their preparations. “When the rubber hits the road Tuesday morning around ten, I’m guessing from past experience our ramp is going to be very much like the deck of an aircraft carrier,” Westbrook concluded.