Business aviation manufacturers are rethinking the value of exhibiting at the big shows

It is ironic that the world's two largest aviation trade shows, Paris and Farnborough, are held at two of Europe's most prominent business aviation airports and yet representation at these events by the leading business aviation players is falling significantly as companies evaluate their commercial relevance.

The Paris Le Bourget and Farnborough showcases share a number of parallels. US manufacturers, notably Cessna and Gulfstream, opted not to bring any business aircraft to either event, while Bombardier and Dassault hugged the static displays with a plethora of models.

Bombardier grabbed the headlines at Paris with news of Transport Canada and US Federal Aviation Administration certification of its super-mid-size Challenger 300 certification. The Canadian manufacturer also displayed its Global 5000, Learjet 40 and 45XR business jets for the first time outside North America - almost a year after the latter types were launched at Farnborough.

If it was not for Bombardier's well-oiled and highly efficient publicity machine, visitors to either show could rightly draw the obvious conclusion that business aviation is of minor significance to the show's organisers, playing second fiddle to its military and air transport industry counterparts.

Manufacturer apathy can be blamed on two factors. The knock-on effect of the world economic slowdown, which is forcing companies and potential customers to re-evaluate their presence on the air show circuit, and the growing stature of the European Business Aviation Association Convention and Exhibition (EBACE).

Held only a month earlier, the Geneva, Switzerland-based brainchild of the European Business Aviation Association and the US National Business Aviation Association provides exhibitors with a focused customer base. Although only in its third year, EBACE is increasingly seen by manufacturers and operators alike as the platform for business aviation in Europe.

"We had a tremendously successful EBACE," says Gulfstream. "This show is exclusively business aviation, where we are a big fish in a small pond and not having to compete with large commercial and military companies."

For US general aviation companies too, Paris paints a similar picture. The show falls shortly after the burgeoning Aero trade show in Friedrichschafen, Germany, arguably Europe's leading GA exhibition and a meeting point for industry and customers. The US Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Air Venture show is hugely popular with European aircraft buyers. The Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based event is an increasingly prominent showcase for business aircraft builders to display entry-level types.

Helicopter companies have a choice of tailored trade shows in Europe and the USA, with Helitech coming three months after Paris, at Duxford in the UK, and the market leading Helicopter Association International convention, held annually in the USA in the first quarter.

"There is increased competition within the air show sector and companies have a limited amount of resources to spend on exhibitions," says Hans Doll, sales director at general aviation aircraft manufacturer Grob Aerospace. For the German manufacturer and other European general aviation companies, Paris continues to provide a suitable backdrop to showcase products and make public announcements.

Grob, which also builds military trainers, showed its six-seat G160TP Ranger single-engined turboprop for the first time and demonstrated its four-seat G140TP light turboprop. The aircraft temporarily halted the flying display after suffering a collapsed nose gear on the active runway, following a steep approach landing.

Italy's VulcanAir also gave a debut to its VF600W Mission utility turboprop, French kitplane manufacturer Aeronix unveiled its Airelle twin-pusher multi-mission aircraft, while Bell/Agusta Aerospace announced Italian certification of its AB139 helicopter.

The French federation of aerospace companies and Paris air show organiser GIFAS says business and general aviation is important to the diversity of its event. It admits the loss of Cessna and Gulfstream as exhibitors in particular is regrettable, but says it boasts an impressive line-up of companies and aircraft.

The Society of British Aerospace Companies is attempting to claw back disillusioned business aircraft companies to Farnborough by establishing a business aircraft park on the site. It now remains to be seen whether the Paris air show will continue to serve the interests of the remaining business and general aviation companies and re-ignite interest for disaffected manufacturers.

Source: Flight International