EBACE bookings beat the downturn

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The calendar has been kind to the ninth European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in Geneva. The event - which takes place from 12-14 May - is scarcely down in size from 2008, partly because most exhibitors booked their space in the second or third quarter of last year, before the downturn began to bite.

The exhibition will occupy halls 6 and 7 of the Swiss city's Palexpo centre, the same as 2007, but without last year's overspill into hall 5. According to Brian Humphries, president and chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association, co-organiser of EBACE, the static display on the apron of the adjoining Geneva airport is almost full.

Where Humphries admits the industry's troubles could hit EBACE is in terms of visitor numbers, with bookings down 15% on 2008 by late April. However, he does not rule out a late surge.

ebaa
  © EBAA

One reason could be the merest hint that the slump in business aviation, in Europe at least, may have bottomed out. While no-one is prepared to predict rapid recovery, Eurocontrol figures show the year-on-year decline in business aircraft movements slowing and anecdotal evidence points to increased activity in used aircraft, albeit after a terrifying plunge in values over the past six months.

Humphries also highlights the fact that, unlike the troubled and very established US corporate sector, business aviation in Europe is still far from maturity, with EBACE over the years attracting a growing number of high-net-worth buyers from still affluent pockets in Russia and the Gulf. "We have strong links to the Middle East which hasn't seen the same downturn," he says.

In addition, business aviation - always a lower-key activity among big European companies than their US counterparts - has not been as badly affected by the banking and other corporate scandals. "The auto makers [use of business aircraft to travel to Washington to appeal for a government bail-out] was an absolute catastrophe and their response was a catastrophe. We haven't quite had the bad reaction to business aviation here," says Humphries.

Humphries promises a "lot of good sessions" in the seminar rooms and says EBACE remains an excellent networking opportunity and also a platform for Europe's business aviation community to tell the world of the contribution the sector makes to the efficiency of businesses and the economy as a whole.