LABACE Convention News

LABACE Opens with Renewed Optimism

 - August 13, 2019, 7:30 AM
From piston twins to turboprops to light jets, helicopters, and beyond, business aviation is undeniably an asset to the Latin American economy. At LABACE, visitors get to sample all levels of participation in private air travel. (Photo: David McIntosh)

LABACE 2019 will open on Tuesday in an economy where “the worst passed two years ago,” according to Flávio Pires, CEO of host Brazilian Association for Business Aviation (ABAG). He illustrated the effect of the crisis on the general aviation fleet with a chart showing the enthusiastic growth that prevailed through 2014 slowing to less than one percent from 2016 onward, with a drop of 0.15 percent in the country’s fleet in the first half of 2019. However, he noted, “There are signs of improvement for the second half.”

Even with the fleet size stagnant, the number of operations has grown, with 2018 up 2.74 percent over 2017, which was up 13.42 percent over 2016, the worst moment of the recession. “If there’s no business, I don’t need a business aircraft,” was how Pires summarized the overall economy’s effect on business aviation, also noting that the number of commercial air passengers declined 25 percent during the crisis.

This year’s LABACE will repeat some innovations introduced in 2018: a circular layout that leaves no exhibitor at a dead end, a covered static display for rotary-wing aircraft, expanded this year to meet demand, and simultaneous conferences on the same stage, with headphones allowing the audience to hear the speaker they’re interested in, in English or Portuguese. Weather forecasts call for LABACE to open under blue skies, and proceed under clouds, but no rain is expected.

Novelties at this year’s LABACE are Embraer’s Praetor midsize business jet, offering Brazilian buyers a domestically produced aircraft with intercontinental range, and Swiss startup Kopter, bringing the same mockup shown at Heli-Expo of a single-turbine helicopter with a large cabin adaptable for multiple uses. The fair will showcase 47 aircraft, with all the major aircraft manufacturers bringing their latest products.

Infrastructure Challenges

Pires noted the conditions favoring growth, such as Brazil’s continental dimensions and limited commercial air service, which serves only 142 cities, while GA serves 1,110, some of which are reachable only by air or river. 

Infrastructure is a challenge. “The government hasn’t built an airport in 30 years,” Pires noted, and construction or expansion of existing airports by private enterprise inevitably means higher costs for users. Brazil has a single avgas refinery, and its closure for maintenance this year, extended by months, has led to shortages as fuel is imported. Even when open, all the airports in the entire country are supplied from the single refinery, which for the more distant states means a weekly tanker truck.

The pressures on aviation are exemplified by LABACE's venue. The area traditionally used at Congonhas Airport, and put to work again this year, was once an airline’s home base but has been leased out for a home construction superstore, which may break ground this year, or may host one more LABACE. Plan B for 2020 is Campo de Marte, one of the country’s seven busiest airports but which the governor has slated for closure to fixed-wing aircraft. The motive, Pires says, is real estate, with speculators eyeing the development potential that would be made available by eliminating height restrictions on 24 sq km (5,900 acres) of urban land.