The US Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is no stranger to pioneering conventions. On top of its long-established annual gathering in the USA, its successful collaboration with the European Business Aviation Association has spawned EBACE, the largest and most successful business aviation event in Europe.

NBAA is hoping to replicate this model in Latin America in partnership with Associação Brasileira de Aviação Geral (ABAG), the Brazilian business aviation association, with an event dubbed the Latin American Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (LABACE). The inaugural event will be staged from 13-15 March in São Paulo's Transamerica Expo Centre, with a static display at the city's Congonhas Airport. The event was originally scheduled for January, but was switched because it coincided with the swearing in of the country's president and the anticipated formation of a new civil aviation authority in the region, due for completion by May.

NBAA dismisses suggestions that LABACE is a clone of its convention stablemates. All three shows share the purpose of disseminating information about business aviation, says NBAA president Jack Olcott, and LABACE will be a good platform to reach out to the rest of South America. "The premise behind all three events is that they should be an information exchange. Business aviation needs forums where we can share knowledge, concerns and solutions," he says.

This approach is a key driver behind LABACE. The show evolved from a previous event, Business Aviation Brazil 2001 (BAB2001), which was held in S‹o Paulo by ABAG and Kallman Worldwide of Waldwick, New Jersey. Although the three-day BAB2001 attracted about 1,000 attendees and 80 exhibitors, there was little opportunity for open discussion and this is fundamental to the success of this industry, says Adalberto Febeliano, ABAG executive director. "We could see how successful the EBACE convention is and decided to partner with the NBAA," he adds.

The event has attracted 80 exhibitors and an impressive line-up of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers and suppliers. These include Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault Falcon Jet, Embraer, Garmin, Gulfstream, Honeywell, Pilatus, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Raytheon and Rockwell, which see the event as a platform for establishing contact with Latin American customers. "Historically, Latin America has been very important to us and we hope to secure one or two new contracts at the show," says Dassault Falcon Jet vice-president of international sales Jeff Habib.

The organisers had by early March sold 197 booths, more than 100 short of the 300 target , and expect around 3,000 visitors. While a small percentage of registrations for the first LABACE have been received from across Latin America including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, more than 70% of visitors are expected to be Brazilian business aviation professionals, says Febeliano. The host nation's unsurprising dominance at LABACE reflects its position within South America. Brazil, Febeliano says, has the second-largest business aviation fleet in the world; it accounts for 50% of the territory of South America and 50% of the population; and has the world's ninth largest economy. Its gross domestic product is equivalent to half that of the whole continent.

Olcott says: "Brazil is the capital of business aviation in Latin America and this is an outstanding opportunity to host LABACE at a critical time for the country and the industry." The aviation authority, he says, is going through a period of transition from military to civil control and the new Lula de Silva government is an advocate of business aviation. Olcott adds: "The Brazilian government recognises that business aviation is a vital element of a nation's transport system and offers flexibility for companies to explore new markets."

Brazil is likely to remain the host nation of LABACE for some time, but the organisers have not ruled out rotating the event throughout key Latin American cities, Febeliano says. "We want LABACE to be the main meeting point for all business aircraft operators in Latin America and this could mean hosting the event in other capitals such as Santiago [Chile], Buenos Aires [Argentina] and Caracas [Venezuela]."

Febeliano says that business aviation within Latin America is not as organised or professional as the USA or even Europe and until now there has not been a desire to create this type of information forum. With the exception of ABAG, and three small groups in Mexico, there are no other dedicated business aviation associations in the region, and no drive to create them. Febeliano says: "Things may begin to change as more operators, through LABACE, see the value in meeting and sharing ideas and experiences." As a united force, he argues, operators will have more power to put pressure on their respective governments and aviation authorities to change prohibitive operating practices. For example, adds Febeliano: "Operators would like Congonhas Airport to become an international base, as Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay - all popular business destinations - are in range of the airport. If associations existed in these countries, we could put pressure on the Brazilian authorities to remove the airport's domestic status."

Source: Flight International