The NBAA's first show of the 21st century will be the 53rd and biggest ever, reflecting the buoyancy of a booming industry

Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

The US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention returns to New Orleans next week for its 53rd show. In the six years since NBAA last met in the Louisiana city, the industry has experienced a spectacular reversal in its fortunes. In 1994 aviation was easing out of a world recession, while this year, the curtain will rise on an industry riding high on hefty order backlogs and the prospect of continued growth.


"Estimated to be a $17 billion industry, generating more than $51 billion annually in economic activity, general aviation is an integral part of our nation's air transportation system and a vital resource for bringing commerce to all parts of the world," the NBBA says.

The first NBAA convention of the 21st century "will be the largest ever in terms of exhibition space, with over 1 million ft² [93,000km²] sold," says NBAA president Jack Olcott. This year's show has attracted 950 exhibitors to the New Orleans convention centre and about 160 aircraft will be on display at nearby Lakefront airport. Around 30,000 visitors are also expected, matching the record set at the Las Vegas show two years ago.

As the industry gathers on 10-12 October, NBAA will renew its focus on advocacy. Olcott says: "Business aviation is coming into its own and the watchword this year is enhanced productivity." He explains: "Companies which have no involvement with business aircraft are realising that these aircraft can be beneficial as a travel resource. Our job is to highlight their advantages [to non-users]."

The NBAA has joined forces with the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association and consultancy Arthur Andersen to formally evaluate the business aircraft market. They plan to publish the results at the show. Olcott says: "Arthur Andersen has studied and interviewed 30 chief financial officers and is attempting to gain sound statistical and empirical evidence that business aircraft enhances productivity."

As fractional ownership continues to swell the world's business aircraft population, contention surrounding future regulations for this industry will also be a talking point at the show, in the run-up to the release of the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) notice of proposed rule making, which is due by year end.

The industry-led Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee, formed by the FAA, unanimously opposes any changes that could endanger the "100% consensus".

The committee recommends that fractional programmes continue to operate under the Part 91 rules that govern corporate flight departments, but are regulated by a new subpart, K, which requires the same FAA safety oversight as charter companies operating under Part 135 rules.

Industry skill shortages

NBAA will seek, during its cornucopia of seminars, to address the skills shortage across the industry. Olcott concedes: "The challenge is not just recruiting personnel but also retaining them. We have to promote the benefits that a career in aviation can provide through the education system and we are continuing to pursue our AvKids campaign as part of this effort."

With many aircraft still under development, no major launches are anticipated this year, but news of product enhancements - particularly involving avionics and engines - will emerge. The growing panoply of end users will also unveil their new and innovative schemes to drum up business and fill aircraft.

The emerging online charter market will assume prominence for the first time at the show. Bombardier will introduce its newly acquired, pioneering charter reservation company The Washington-based venture will unveil plans for the online charter market and introduce its new incentive programme, SkyClub. The scheme, it says, will form part of its long-term strategy to raise the perception of business aircraft charter in the USA. will add a new regional programme to its growing inventory of charter services, large corporate shuttles and online reservation. Boston, Massachusetts-based FlightTime says its new "charter plan" will "offer all the benefits of fractional ownership without the high costs and initial capital outlay". Details will be released at the show.

The 12-month lull in explosive orders from fractional ownership companies is expected to end as Executive Jet embarks on another double (or maybe triple) digit spending spree for its NetJets fractional ownership programme. This time, EJI, which operates the world's largest fractional scheme with bases in the USA, Europe and the Middle East, will announce a large order for entry-level jets for its European and US programmes. The Cessna Citation Bravo is being touted as a likely replacement aircraft in Europe for the ageing Citation SIIs and in the USA the Citation CJ2 and Raytheon's Premier 1. NetJets' worldwide fleet now totals 270 aircraft, of which 17 are deployed by the European programme.

Fractional ownership grows

Bombardier continues to grow its Flexjet fractional programme in a bid to wrest the number one fractional ownership provider title from EJI. Flexjet's combined US and European programmes total 102 aircraft and 475 customers representing around 900 shares, with 134 aircraft and 600 customers, expected by year end. The Dallas, Texas-based company may formally introduce its "owner transactional" website, designed to enable its fractional ownership customers to book, securely, their future travel itineraries online (Flight International 12-18 September). Raytheon's Travel Air fractional programme is also expanding, with more than 92 aircraft and 575 shares sold to date.

Cessna makes its debut as a fractional ownership operator at the show, following its acquisition of 50% of TAG's StarShares programme earlier this year. The venture, now renamed CitationShares, will sell holdings in Cessna's Citation CJ1 and Bravo business jets.

All major airframe manufacturers will be represented at the show. At the heavy metal end of the market Boeing Business Jets will reveal new BBJ orders and a breakdown of BBJ2 sales, for which production is sold for the first year. The company may also update its plans to provide a network of service centres to support the BBJ fleet, now 16.

Airbus Industrie is not planning to bring its Airbus A319 Corporate Jet, but a product update and announcement are scheduled.

Fairchild Dornier will display a mock-up of its Envoy 7, a derivative of the 728JET regional jet, for which 28 orders have been chalked up so far, 24 for Flight Options' US fractional ownership programme. The US/German joint venture will also be looking for a launch customer for its smaller Envoy 3. The interior remains uncertificated until a launch customer can be signed. The aircraft is to enter service in 2003.

Bombardier will display its full range of aircraft, including the Global Express. The Canadian company has kickstarted a performance enhancement programme (PEP) to address the aircraft's heavier than expected weight following interior completion, resulting in a reduction in the aircraft's range. The PEPis expected to add 185km (100 nm) to Global Express's range. Bombardier will also highlight at the show the 500th delivery of its Challenger 600 series.

Gulfstream will display two GVs, neither with the new enhanced vision system, which is now scheduled for certification in April next year. The Savannah, Georgia-based company has a $3 billion backlog for the GV and expects to start the show with 95 aircraft in service.

The mid- and super-mid-size sectors, dominated for so long by stalwarts such as the Raytheon Hawker 800XP, Learjet 60, Galaxy Astra, Dassault Falcon 50 and the Falcon 2000, will be the focus of much activity.

Supplying all sectors

Manufacturers continue to work behind the scenes to certificate and deliver their new aircraft ranges and fill the remaining niches in this market. Dassault may launch its new generation Falcon 2000EX super-mid-size jet, which will be pitched against the growing numbers of aircraft included in this category.

Cessna, Raytheon and Bombardier will display mock ups of their respective mid-size Sovereign and super-mid-size Horizon and Continental business jets, supported by the product updates and order numbers.

Galaxy Aerospace is also eyeing new variants to add to its super-mid-size Galaxy and Astra SPX mid-size product lines. The Israeli-US joint venture says it is committed to a new product line in the medium and large cabin markets. It is scheduled to receive the results of the customer survey it issued this year to examine the market for new Galaxy derivatives.

Newcomer Embraer will also be hawking sales of its new $19 million super-mid-size ECJ-135 Legacy. The Brazilian manufacturer has 25 firm orders to date, from the ERJ-135 regional jet derivative, from US fixed-base operator and charter company Swift Air.

The traditional light aircraft market is heating up too, and Cessna will display its recently certificated Ultra upgrade, the Encore and CJ2 twin turbofans, while Bombardier will be promoting sales of its "unsung" Learjet 31A. The North American manufacturers also dominate the popular superlight sector, with their Learjet 45 and the Citation Excel - both on display.

Independent venture Eclipse Aviation will announce the airframe supplier for its $837,500 twin-engined personal jet, two months after Avidyne and BAe Systems were selected to supply the avionics suite. The US company has secured more than $30 million in deposits for over 160 aircraft.

Cessna's CJ1 will make its first public appearance since it replaced the ageing CitationJet earlier this year and Raytheon will display its Premier I, which still awaits certification. Also, with four aircraft models on display, New Piper will display its newly certificated Malibu Meridian single-engine turboprop.

Source: Flight International