Aero Friedrichshafen has come along way since its humble beginnings in 1978 as a small parochial event showcasing cars, motorbikes and gliders. Its metamorphosis into Europe's largest general aviation show and the biggest event of its kind outside North America began in 1993 when the organisers severed the show's automotive ties in favour of a dedicated biennial GA event.
"Our focus was on the German market first and by 1997 it had taken on an international flavour as more and more companies saw Aero as a window on to the European market," says Aero Friedrichshafen project manager Roland Bosch.
More than 15 countries were represented in 1997, but the show's popularity has seen that tally almost double in its 19th year, with the largest contingent coming from the USA. The largest step in the development of the show was the move in 2003 to a new exhibition site adjacent to the airport of Friedrichshafen, Bosch says.
Aero Friedrichshafen has grown hugely since it became a dedicated GA event in 1993
The organisers have sought to raise the show's appeal for its target audience: the owner-pilot community. That aircraft from across the aviation spectrum are on display - from gliders and electric aircraft to sports aircraft and business jets - has helped to lure increasing numbers of potential buyers to the event.
Aero has also drawn most GA manufacturers and vendors away from the traditional European aviation venues, notably the ILA Berlin, Farnborough, and Paris air shows. "Each show has seen a 15-20% increase over the one before, up to our peak in 2009 when we recorded 611 attendees," says Bosch. The confidence felt by the show organiser that year was manifested by its decision to transform Aero from a biennual to an annual event. "It was a gamble at the time," Bosch says. "Our numbers dropped in 2010 to 504, but we have added around 100 exhibitors this year and hope to get back to record numbers again soon."
Bosch attributes Aero's popularity to the lack of competition in the GA show market. "Of course there are numerous small local shows sprinkled across Europe, but nothing on this scale," he says. Aero's location is also a draw for its army of visitors. Situated on the German shore of Lake Constance on the border of Switzerland and Austria, Friedrichshafen is the birthplace of the Zeppelin, its manufacturer's Maybach engine subsidiary, and Dornier Flugzeugwerke.
The European GA market has been battered by the economic downturn, Bosch admits, and despite a unique position on the show circuit, Aero has not been immune from the fiscal gloom. A number of companied have been foced to pull out of this year's event due to cost constraints. "Other companies are in a similar situation to Cessna," Bosch says. "It will take around two to three years for the market to recover."
Aero serves as a mouthpiece for the Europe's embattled GA community. Leading figures from across the industry and trade associations use the show as a platform to discuss issues affecting the community: new pilot licensing proposals, methods of revitalising flight training, light sport aircraft regulation and introduction of environmentally led technologies, such as electric-powered aircraft, more efficient engines and alternative fuels.
Despite the drop in numbers, manufacturers from across the aviation spectrum will be also represented at the four-day event. Fixed-wing show regulars Cessna, Cirrus, Daher Socata, Diamond, Hawker Beechcraft and Piper will be out in force to woo customers and bostler their dwindling orderbooks with their array of eye catching, high-tech business jet and propeller-driven aircraft designs.
Cirrus will be hoping to secure maximum publicity with the European unveiling of a limited edition of its SR22 piston single. Italian airframer Tecnam will be expecting a similar response when it takes the wraps off its two-seat light sport aircraft and 11-seat piston twin, the P2012 Traveller.
Eurocopter will be making its debut at Aero's "significantly expanded helicopter hangar", displaying an AS332 Super Puma and an EC155. Robinson Helicopter is also expected to bring its R66 turbine helicopter for the first time at Aero.
"The show is a celebration of GA," Bosch says. "The market is tough right now and we must use this industry gathering as a way of building up and promoting the GA industry. There is too much talk of [restricting] regulations, high costs [of flying and manufacturing]. If the early pioneers thought about such problems, we wouldn't have had the Zeppelin or other [prolific] aircraft types."