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Attendance the first day of the show reached over 23,000 attendees, exceeding the entire NBAA 2009 show.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) hosted its 63rd annual convention and tradeshow October 19-21 in Atlanta, Ga. Compared to the last couple years, the convention has showed signs of growth and renewal despite its history of unfortunate timing.


In 2001, the initial show was cancelled and rescheduled for December of that year because the events of 9/11 interrupted installation in New Orleans. A few years later, Hurricane Katrina forced show management to shuffle the convention location because the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans would not be ready. Just two years ago, in 2008, the week-long stock market tumble was occurring as the show was operating.

Despite the unfortunate activities surrounding this show, it is still one of the largest shows in one of the strongest industries. Always ranked near the top of what was the Tradeshow Week 200, last years’ show took a tremendous hit in the number of exhibitors and attendees when business aviation took its share of hits. This including the U.S. Senate questioning the need for three of the auto industry’s top executive’s to each fly their own private planes to Washington for a hearing.

However, this year’s show had a very positive feel to it. With over 1000 exhibitors, the B and C Halls of the Georgia World Congress Center accommodated the indoor exhibits and over 100 conference sessions. Dekalb-Peachtree Airport provided space for the Static Display, where attendees were able to view over 100 state-of-the-art aircraft.

WestStar

With over 1000 exhibitors, the B and C Halls of the Georgia World Congress Center accommodated the indoor exhibits and over 100 conference sessions. Photo by Jamie Padgett

Attendance the first day of the show reached over 23,000 attendees, exceeding the entire NBAA 2009 show. At the opening ceremony, hosted by Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the NBAA, Tom Donohue, who is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that “business aviation is critical to economic recovery and long term growth.”

Large original equipment manufacturers, such as Cessna and Hawker-Beechcraft, that were noticeably absent from last years show floor had returned, albeit in smaller spaces. Where last year they had retreated to just having planes parked at the static display, this year they operated customer service and support offices and meeting spaces on the show floor as well.

“The recession has taken its toll on our customers, and we want to let them know in a very concrete way that we are here for them”, said Raffaele Virgili, customer service VP of Pratt & Whitney. “The company unveiled several new cost optimization and discount packages for its engines.”

For fuel supplier AirBP, cautious optimism prevailed.

“No doubt 2010 has been better than 2009, and we have seen improvements of maybe 2-3%,” said vice president Steve

McCullough. “We are just not sure about 2011, and we may not see any real measurable growth until 2012.”

This year the company reduced its presence from an 80’ x 100’ two-story exhibit to a 60’ x 60’ single level, and focused its attention on promoting their fuel dealers in its space and in off-site functions. Dealer and customer lunches were held in off-site rooms, and an evening invitation-only hospitality event drew key customers and prospects.

When asked for her perspective on the show this year, veteran business aviation tradeshow exhibitor Ann Hein, director of marketing for MidCoast Aviation said her company was taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach. They were bringing less staff, with less fluff in the exhibit, and were focused on growth opportunities.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however.

“We’ve seen a significant return this year, increasing month by month,” said David Sokol, chairman, president and CEO of NetJets. “We’re up about 8 percent year over year on flight activity and, while still down from 2007 levels, it’s very much a positive trend.”

One highlight to the show was the general session recognizing industry relief efforts after the massive January earthquake devastated Haiti. In the weeks following the disaster, the business aviation community was responsible for the donation of more than 800 flights, carrying nearly 4000 passengers, including aid workers, doctors and nurses and injured victims. The industry also delivered more than 1.4 million pounds of supplies.

From the perspective of someone who has been attending this show for about ten years, I did sense a renewed energy. Many exhibitors said they were looking forward to a good show and that attendees seemed ready to talk business again. From an exhibits perspective, I didn’t see a lot of new properties, but I also didn’t see all the empty exhibit spaces that were so prevalent last year.

Because of the requirement for over 1 million square feet of exhibit space and a static display of over 100 aircraft, this show is limited to those large convention facilities that also are within reach of a larger general aviation airport. Starting next year, this show will rotate between Las Vegas and Orlando. This should be a positive development, because having the show broken up into two halls in Atlanta could be seen as a distraction.

This is a strong show, and will continue to be very important for the business aviation industry. Currently, it is the world’s largest purely civil aviation tradeshow. Hopefully, its luck is beginning to change for the better.

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