It’s Back to Business at NBAA 2001

SPECIAL REPORT. Notwithstanding a three months' delay and an uncertain economy, it was back to business in New Orleans at the 54th National Business Aviation Association Annual Meeting and Convention. As expected, attendance was down. Some of the usual exhibitors could not alter their plans to accommodate the schedule change. Despite those expected hurdles, the business of business aviation advanced at a surprising pace. AVweb's Dave Higdon reports.


Given the ongoing pre-Christmas sales, it has been difficult to avoid ananalogous view of this year’s attack-delayed convention of the National BusinessAviation Association: deeply discounted, like so much holiday merchandise. Many within the aviation community discounted the potential value of the 54thannual meeting after NBAA postponed its original September 18-20 dates inthe aftermath of the September 11 attacks. “NBAA will never be able to get newdates or, alternatively, enough interest to make rescheduling worthwhile,”they thought. Some folks even expressed doubts NBAA would reschedule at all.

The verbal discounting continued even after NBAA announced the December 12-14convention dates. “Nobody’s going to be there; nothing’s going to happen;why bother?” some asked. Kudos to NBAA for proving the naysayers wrong.

SeriousSupporters Strengthen NBAA Experience

SmallCrowdNo Handicap For Convention Performance

Static DisplayTo be honest, NBAA was off, significantly off – about 66 percent off in thestatic display with 50 planes at New Orleans Lakefront Airport compared toapproximately 150 booked for the original dates and the 140-plus that crowdedthe same ramp during the 2000 NBAA. The number of exhibitors was off, too, byabout 35 percent, with approximately 680 businesses on-site compared to the1,049 who had signed on for September. Attendance was also down – reduced toaround 57 percent measured against the expectation three months ago that 30,000or so visitors would descend on the Big Easy. But the 12,500 or so who didattend gave vendors and sponsors and the NBAA as much business and enthusiasm aslast year’s near-29,000 crowd.

So the discounting stopped at the doors. By the accounts of many, thereactions of others and the observations of several more, NBAA 2001 didn’t matchtheir discounted expectations – it beat them. To some who attended, the leveland quality of business actually exceeded the levels of conventions past.

To paraphrase one veteran industry consultant’s observation to associationPresident Jack Olcott: NBAA could be in trouble. Many vendors and delegates cameaway wondering whether permanently smaller might be perpetually better.

Of course, that’s not likely, barring any onerous restrictions that furtherhamper the health and utility of general aviation. As Olcott noted, next year’s55th annual convention in Orlando will likely look a lot more like last year’sin all respects.

FewerIn Number, Greater In Determination

Those Not There Could Be Remembered For All The Wrong Reasons

Smaller CrowdsThere’s no getting around the perspective that the 54th convention that endedFriday produced for the hardcore who came, whether member-company delegate orexhibiting-company staff.

That said, some delegates expressed incredulity at the absence of some largercompanies – many of them among the largest-dollar losers from the decision topostpone and most able to absorb the loss. Some vendors questioned the decisionof competitors who chose to eschew the show. More than a few from both vendorand delegate ranks expressed their feelings rather harshly, promising “toremember next year who wasn’t here this year.” Some vendors’ presenceconsisted merely of an aircraft or two on the static ramp – aircraft buttonedup and locked down, with no staff to deal with delegates who rode the bus to NEWto view the planes. That inability to see and talk to company reps about thoseairplanes added to the frustration and bitterness of some delegates.

But that anger and bitterness may be tough sentiments to maintain afterhearing the variety of reasons why some outlets chose to minimize theirparticipation. Many are suffering their own problems because of thepostponement. Some of the larger companies continue working to make up time lostduring the grounding. Virtually all the largest companies lost tens of thousandsto hundreds of thousands of dollars when the convention was postponed. Stillothers couldn’t spare aircraft or people from flight-test programs critical tothose companies’ futures.

Opening NBAA2001Many who attended NBAA avoided any significant losses because they carrytheir exhibits materials with them and their planned departure dates remaineddays away when the delay decision was announced. However, scores of those whochose to exhibit last week had swallowed the bitter losses of September and thenswallowed more costs last week, like so much castor oil, as a bad-tastingmedicine needed to get better.

Those vendors, most of all, seemed to be the ones delegates and fellowvendors had in mind when they spoke about the trials and tribulations overcometo support the aviation community and participate. Three months ago, some had torecall staff already en route. Others had materials already physically in NewOrleans. Unscrambling the egg had seemed unlikely, even impossible, inSeptember. Even so, by October, most of the exhibitors who would ultimately behere were determined to participate. Their motivation was as much to thumb theirnoses at the international terrorists as it was to wave the flag and showsupport.

Regardless of their stories, none whom we talked to regretted being here andmost expressed a degree of satisfaction with their experience that ranged fromthe mildly pleased to wildly surprised. As the event unfolded, this NBAAconvention really defied much of the value discounting thanks to a healthy doseof news: news of new aircraft programs and products, news of hundred of millionsin new aircraft and systems sales, and news of new industry projections forhealthy growth in the coming years.

JustLike The Old Days: Biz-Av Flexes Its Muscles And Bulks Up

“This community won’t stand still…” – Olcott

Air Freighter“It’s been really strong for us,” was the description of his NBAAconvention experience from Paul Jackson, president of AeroCourier Group ofWichita and Minneapolis. Even with a new propjet-power product to launch, thequestion of attending a game-delayed NBAA wasn’t an automatic one for a smallcompany in its first year of existence. But in the end, it was “ano-brainer” to decide on making a public launch of the group’s new programat this NBAA. “We had to be here, but in what form and at what level wasthe question,” Jackson noted.

So the new mock-up stayed at home to preserve needed budget funds, while thestaff and display models and press kits came to work out of a 20-by-10-footbooth. Representatives stood before the press on opening day for AeroCourierGroup’s share of premium spotlight time, showing off its concept for a newsingle-engine, propjet freighter. And as it turned out, Jackson said,”we’ve had some good contacts and the chance to focus on them about theairplane.”

The AeroCourier is designed as either a 10-seat aircraft or as a cargoairliner capable of handling 340 cubic feet of freight. Use of an unpressurizeddesign, simple systems and Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT-6A-114 holds out thepromise of a price under $1 million each.

And in true Cinderella fashion, coming to the ball helped the company landits first order. AirShares Elite of Atlanta signed on for 20 planes for itsfractional-ownership operation. AirShares Elite may sound familiar. It is theAtlanta firm that last year launched itself into the fractional business usingCirrus Design Corp.’s SR20 and SR22 piston singles.

And AeroCourier Group wasn’t alone in enjoying some premium – as inundiluted, non-discounted – spotlight time.

Airbus MockupAirbus stunned the market by announcing a new entry into the super-heavyclass of business jets: the World Ranger business airliner. The community’sfirst wide-body based executive aircraft is a derivative of the A340-200airliner and is expected to sell about two units per year. In addition to its119-foot-long by 18.5-foot-wide cabin, the World Ranger will boast a range of8,000 nautical miles. Airbus decided to make the launch after selling nine A340sas corporate airliners on an on-demand basis. Currently, no orders exist forthis monster, but sales of the A319-based Airbus Corporate Jet or ACJ have beenbrisk with more than 30 orders on the books and eight aircraft already inservice.

Bombardier drew attention by flying its new Continental mid-size business jetfrom Wichita to Lakefront for its public debut. With a select group of camerasrunway-side to record the arrival, and about two-score media people inattendance for a program briefing and ceremonial ribbon cutting, Bombardierassured itself of some front-page coverage in the show dailies and leading-storystatus in many of the aviation publications that covered the convention. Theprototype then returned to ICT for the continuation of its flight-test program.

Brazil’s Embraer brought its new Legacy business jet to NEW for its firstNorth American showing, less than a month after its international debut at theDubai Air Show and only a day after its certification by airworthinessauthorities back home in San Jose dos Campos. A competitor to Bombardier’sContinental, this $19.8 million business jet is due for FAA approval shortlybefore its first scheduled U.S. delivery in June.

You could make the same observation about Dassault’s decision to give its newFalcon 7X long-range business jet an NBAA presence following its introduction atthe 2001 Paris Air Show in June. With the company now in “firm ordermode,” this 5,700-nautical-mile jet was able to boast of landing letters ofintent and deposits from 40 customers at a price of $35.65 million per copy.

NBAA number 54 also brought out an all-new concept for a business aircraft.The Humming employs hybrid lift devices that blend the delta wing of afixed-wing aircraft with a rotary ring that encircles the main body. With fourjet engines powering the spinning ring, the Humming could handle VTOL operationsfrom small facilities and fly level at 360 knots, between takeoff and touchdown.

With several of NBAA’s working sessions focused exclusively on security forbusiness aviation, it came as no surprise that companies were promoting newproducts geared toward protecting business aircraft in flight. Among them wasTotal Aircraft Services, which floated a concept for an on-board infraredcountermeasures system to fool the infrared sensors of some shoulder-launchedanti-aircraft missiles. Some operators seemed interested in the product. Itwould cost $2 million to $3 million to install the device in a business jet.

Non-Discounted: SalesApproach NBAA 2000’s $2 Billion-Plus

Talks Of A Slump May Be Overstated

TeledyneForecasts from industry powerplant leaders Honeywell and Rolls-Royce bothseemed to portend a flattening in deliveries over the immediate six to 12months, but other indicators point toward the pace of placement returning to agrowth mode in 2003 and for the next two years or so thereafter. As if to givethese crystal-ball outlooks some validity, NBAA 2001 generated more of the sortof news that illustrates that businesses intend to keep buying to keep flying.

One case in point: the NBAA Convention delivered nine-figure’s worth of neworders, proof positive that the 54th NBAA had some full-value action for whichno discounts applied. Thank UAL Corp.’s new Avolar division for a large chunk ofthis value-added action.

For months the source of considerable breathless conversation and formidablecan-they-do-it wondering, Avolar burst onto the public scene a scant eightmonths ago. By a week ago, the company enjoyed the status as the world’s richestlaunch, with 224 jets on order worth a staggering $6.3 billion.

In New Orleans last week, Avolar extended its impact further by announcinganother $750 million in business-jet orders representing another 82 aircraft,including 57 new Learjets – split between 45s and 60s – plus 15 new Beechjet400As, with options for another 10. The new fleet order total: 306 airplanes.The new fractional also announced a selection of a headquarters city – Chicago- and revealed that formal operations are now underway, several weeks ahead ofschedule.

But Avolar’s new orders weren’t the only big-bucks news. Chicago-based IndigoAir penned an order for 25 new Embraer Legacy Corporate Shuttles to beconfigured for 18 to 19 seats. Options for another 50 push Indigo Air’spotential commitment to $1.1 billion. Including other revelations at NBAA, totalannounced sales approached the $2 billion+ mark reached in 2000. If there was adiscount here, it was a small one.

LowerKey, Not Lesser Importance: Many Elements Stay The Same

Aside From The Big Business Aspects, The Human Factors Loomed Large

Award PresentationNBAAdid lack virtually all of the evening and semi-business social functionstypical of recent years, including the closing-night gala that usually serves asthe stage for the association’s annual awards event. But the awards themselveswent to the recipients present. The two top awards rounded out the ceremonies,with former NBAA board member Myron Collier receiving the association’s DoswellAward and no less than Paul H. Poberezny, the father of the EAA, receivingNBAA’s lifetime achievement award.

Collier’s honor stemmed from his years of service to business aviationthrough his service on the NBAA board, as a flight instructor and as aschoolteacher who encouraged students to sample aviation. Poberezny’s receivedhis award for his lifetime spent encouraging aviation, aircraft building andindividual aviators through his association and the annual sport-aviationgathering at Oshkosh that draws together the aviation community in its highestsaturation.

The presentation of the Doswell and lifetime achievement awards closed outthe only organized evening event on the convention agenda, a convention-floorreception designed to provide some extra networking time for delegates who spentmost of their first day sitting through workshops and professional-developmentseminars.

A down-to-business groupThis was, as it turned out, a hardcore crowd who attended NBAA with a senseof purpose. One vendor fretted that the floor seemed even emptier than he hadanticipated, and started upstairs for the pressroom to ask for an attendancenumber. But as he arrived on the convention center’s second floor, he noticedthat the audiences overflowed the seminar rooms into the hallways outside.

“Those rooms were standing-room only,” the now-embarrassed vendorrelated later. “And when the sessions ended, we handled a steady stream ofpeople anxious to talk to us. We actually did better here with this crowd thanwe did last year with so many more people walking the exhibits.”

“The difference was a total lack of junketeers,” he said. “Thepeople here were here to do business and were serious about the business theywere here to do. A body could get to like this leaner, meaner NBAAconvention.”

As the delegate ranks have swollen the NBAA convention crowd, theexhibition-hall size and the number of exhibitors, it’s become more difficult toconduct all the business on the collective agendas of operators and vendorsalike. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at,” said JackOlcott, the NBAA president.

In a conversation during the convention’s final hour Friday, Olcottacknowledged that the solution to the over-saturation typical in years past mayprove to be a four-day NBAA. “We’re going to poll our members and look atthe pros and cons, but it’s what many people have stated they would like to seeto spread out the intensity we have had in recent years.”

Olcott expressed satisfaction and gratitude at the people and companies whopersevered the challenges brought by the change of schedule. “I think itshows the strength of our community and their determination to not give in tofear or paranoia about what might happen,” Olcott noted. “It shows thededication of the people who make business aviation the viable force it istoday.”

Elite SoftwareThe successes of the much-discounted 54th NBAA also revealed the dedicationof NBAA’s staff, which in three short months had to coordinate the logistics oftwo conventions: the one that didn’t happen and the one that did. “They arethe ones who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for what we accomplishedhere,” Olcott stressed. “Our staff really pulled together to help those hereachieve something positive.”

From inside the NBAA offices, the events of September 11 started a chain reactionof proportions unprecedented in the convention’s 53-year history. For example,on that Tuesday itself, staff members declined to leave early to tend to familyafter Washington, D.C., effectively shut down after a Boeing 757 struck thePentagon.Olcott told staffers that if any had worries about their family or personalsafety that nobody would make an issue of their leaving. Nobody left.

In the first few hours after the attacks of September 11, the general aviationcommunity had no real idea when security authorities might relax theirunprecedented reaction to the terrorist attacks – the complete closure ofnational airspace. During the restoration process, non-scheduled traffic camesecond and continuing restrictions kept hundreds of airports closed andtens of thousands of airplanes trapped. NBAA went to work for its members,appearing before the FAA, the National Security Council, and members ofCongress.

Once the rescheduled dates for the 54th NBAA convention were announced onSeptember 20, the real heavy lifting began. Some NBAA personnel undertook the choresof canceling the arrangements for one convention while others began arrangementsfor the new one. Sometimes the overlap increased the workload. Answering thebarrage of questions from members, exhibitors and reporters required carefulattention to detail and coordination between the processes involved in workingtwo conventions from opposite ends of the planning process.

AWorthwhile Exercise By A Community Under Assault

“A Gathering of Our Community” Showed The Community’s Strengths

NBAA SpeakerDespite the pre-show discounting, A Gathering of Our Community turned out tobe an effective, productive show for those who attended. “In the end,”said Olcott, “I couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the peoplehere and the organization of the convention itself. Our community truly cametogether.”

That struggle will continue. So will efforts to restore airspace access toits pre-9/11 level, something the FAA continues to work for. “We provided93 percent of services that the FAA had been providing prior to the terroristsattack,” said Steve Brown, associate administrator of air traffic servicesfor the FAA. “And I want it to go to 102 percent and then 110percent,” he told NBAA members during the opening general sessions.

The need for the community to pull together and communicate with one anothercontinues with increased urgency. Olcott observed that there are securityproposals under consideration that could severely handicap the freedom andutility of private flying across the board. “We can’t protect our freedomsby becoming less free,” Olcott noted. We also can’t serve the Constitutionby erecting barriers to our lives that are unconstitutional, particularly giventhat some of the ideas floated by our Attorney General and the Office ofHomeland Security will serve only to institute artificial perceptions ofsecurity.

So, general aviation must pull together as a community irrespective of itsinternal differences. Private pilots and business pilots, individuals andcorporations, government and citizens, will all suffer similar consequences.Recognize this, the unanimity so far has been remarkably strong – the frontunited.

“At no time have we had more to say, nor are we more proud of ourcommunity,” Olcott noted several times during the convention. “Andthat need continues acutely. We can’t be idle or disengaged at any level.”

In sum, the convention was more than a financial shot in the arm for theparticipants. It also served as a call-to-arms for the business aviationcommunity. Challenges relating to security issues, emanating from both securityofficials and those who would terrorize us, aren’t going away any time soon. Andbusiness aviation started dealing with that reality at this year’s NBAAconvention.

NBAA OrlandoFor those who weren’t there, there is no way to gauge the lost opportunities.But they can step back on board when the meeting convenes next year. We’ll look forward to seeing them, and you, in Orlando.

Fly safe and we’ll see you back here Thursday for AVweb’s expanded BizAv coverage detailing the product developments announced at NBAA 2001.

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