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Contrails: The Cost of Being Seen

The market has fragmented into regions. But manufacturers can’t afford to be everywhere.

September 28, 2007  By David Carr

Record attendance at this year’s Paris Air Show, plus the return of the
Americans following their Iraqrelated sulk of 2003, would appear to
belie claims that large shows on the scale of Le Bourget and its
cross-channel cousin, Farnborough, have had their day.

– although a higher-than-normal spin of the turnstyles at Paris does
not alter the fact that the aviation calendar is populated by too many
air shows. Or that rationalization is inevitable.

Neither Gifas,
the French aerospace manufacturer’s association which hosts Le Bourget,
or the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), which stages
Farnborough, are oblivious to the trend. Both have tinkered around the
margins of their product. Gifas has responded to the high cost of
delegates attending the show by shortening its length by one day,
negotiating discount packages with local hoteliers, and encouraging Air
France to cut fullfare economy ticket prices by half for show delegates.

which is expected to have a sharper commercial focus now that the SBAC
has transferred management of the show to a wholly-owned subsidiary,
will also introduce changes in 2006, including shaving a full day off
its traditional seven-day program, and opening a new split-level
exhibition hall. Also returning to Farnborough next year will be the
Business Aircraft Park (BAP). Launched in 2004 as a ‘three day show
within a show’, the BAP was a transparent attempt to hold the growing
popularity of EBACE (European Business Aviation Conference and
Exhibition) in check.


Which raises an interesting question. Does
a specialty show like EBACE and its fast-sprouting permutations in
Latin America, Asia and the Middle East represent the future of
industry trade shows, or are they part of the problem?

of the boutique shows argue that corporate aviation has traditionally
taken third spot behind military and air transport during the Le
Bourget/Farnborough rotation, and that the sector has built up enough
critical mass to require a dedicated program. And not just once a year
at NBAA. Supporters of the traditional shows are just as convincing
when they point to the broader appeal and global reach of a Paris or

But industry shows need exhibitors and visitors to
survive, and both groups are complaining of air show overload. It is
easy to understand why: Budgets.

Large manufacturers such as
Boeing and Bombardier spend millions to fly the flag at major shows.
Individuals rack up thousands in expenses to attend. Nobody is denying
the value of ‘see and be seen’. But at what cost? And, in an
increasingly fragmented market, where?

The NBAA’s regional
business aviation conference and exhibition (BACE) series is a classic
example of thinking globally and acting regionally. ABACE touched down
in Shanghai in August. China is fertile territory. According to
Britain’s Economist, business jets in China are as “rare as Pandas,”
although this will change now that the government has taken the brakes
off private aircraft ownership and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing

By hosting a series of regional shows alongside its
annual flagship event in the US, the NBAA is bringing corporate
aviation right into each market’s own backyard. A good opportunity for
customers and suppliers, perhaps. Not so much for the manufacturers and
exhibitors whose trade show budgets must either be increased, stretched
over even more events, or strategically invested.

Even with a
boost in promotional budgets linked to the long-awaited market rebound,
it will be strategic investments that are destined to win the day. We
are already seeing signs of this, which is why Cessna Citation was the
first corporate manufacturer to break away from the larger shows to
pour more resources into the boutiques, and why Farnborough organizers
are freezing exhibitor costs to 2004 levels and slashing the price of
static displays to stem last year’s “disappointing” turnout.

of this is to suggest the beginning of the end of either Le Bourget or
Farnborough, although we can expect the number of days that each of
these behemoths gobbles up to gradually dwindle to three or four. But
disappear altogether? Unlikely. After all, one amusing observation to
be made about those industry leaders who complain of too many air shows
– they typically do so while attending Le Bourget, Farnborough or both.
Besides, the Paris show marks its 100th anniversary in 2009 and we are
all going to want to be at that one.


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