Visitors to the NBAA's last convention of the millennium will see its biggest show yet and industry optimism to match

Kate Sarsfield/LONDON


The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) celebrates its final convention of the century (12-14 October) amid a climate of growing optimism.

As business aircraft sales continue to escalate, the knock-on effect is being felt across the industry. Manufacturers acknowledge that the growth in sales, coupled with a greater acceptance of business aircraft as corporate tools, looks set to continue. Predictions of a looming recession in the West have not dampened industry enthusiasm; most manufacturers have accumulated large enough order backlogs to soften any economic blows.

The NBAA convention, which celebrates its 52nd anniversary in Atlanta, Georgia, has experienced such phenomenal growth that now only a handful of US cities can provide large enough accommodation to house the annual event. "This will be our biggest show ever," boasts NBAA president Jack Olcott. "We will have 42,000 exhibitor booths and almost 1,000 exhibiting companies from across the globe."

Olcott, who has been at the NBAA helm for seven years, attributes the association's success to its strong focus on advocacy. "For far too long we have tried to justify the use of business aircraft. We have been both defensive and reluctant to tell people what we do, for fear that someone would say it wasn't valuable or necessary." He adds: "At the end of this century and into the next we have to continue to advocate business aircraft, look for the examples of where it is working and spread the good news."

The NBAA has largely been credited with changing the regulators' perception of business aviation, convincing them that the industry has different operating and economic requirements than those of commercial air transport. The commitment appears to be paying off, as the NBAA now represents a growing membership, standing at 6,000 companies, for which it has successfully campaigned at national and regional government levels on issues such as reduced vertical separation minima and extended range twinjet operations. An industry source says: "The NBAA has become highly regarded among the aviation and political establishments. When they have something to say, people sit up and take notice."

As the NBAA enters the 21st century, it will continue to focus on the image, safety and efficiency of business aviation. At the top of its agenda are fractional ownership regulation issues: should the fractional operators continue to fly under private/general aviation rules(Part 91)? Should they be placed under the more stringent commercial aircraft regulations (Part 135) or under an as-yet unwritten combination of the two? (see feature, P53).

Although this year's convention will address this and other issues through the plethora of conferences throughout the week, emphasis will again be on advocacy. In an attempt to "spread the good news about business aviation", the NBAA will launch its innovative AvKids education programme campaign, aimed at encouraging children as young as seven to aim for a career in aviation and to instill positive images of the industry throughout schools.


Battling for publicity

The NBAA show is not expected to produce new product announcements. Raytheon has quashed speculation of a launch of its Premier II business jet to compete with Cessna's Citation, and possibly its own Beechjet 400, while New Piper is not planning to reveal details of its "new family of aircraft at this stage".

All the key business aircraft manufacturers and suppliers will be out in force, however, battling for publicity and customer approval in their highly competitive and increasingly active market niches, where many aircraft are in varying stages of development.

At the heavy-iron end of the market, rivals Airbus Industrie and Boeing, armed with recent certification for their A319 Corporate Jet (ACJ) and Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), will be touting for sales. Airbus will not display its ACJ, for which it has 14 orders, but has announced that it will set aside six production slots next year and eight in 2001, "depending on the demand". Three aircraft are planned for delivery by the end of the year.

Fairchild Aerospace will display, for the first time, a cabin mock-up of its Envoy 7 business aircraft, a variant of its 728JET regional jet, for which it has 27 orders. The company plans to conduct its critical design review next month, and "cut metal by the end of the year". Certification and first deliveries of the Envoy 7 are planned for early 2002. San Antonio, Texas-based Fairchild hopes to sign a launch customer for the smaller Envoy 3 business jet by the fourth quarter.

Canada's Bombardier, which will display its entire range of aircraft, has 81 orders for the Global Express in its competition for sales with rival Gulfstream's GV.

Savannah, Georgia-based Gulfstream, acquired by General Dynamics this year, expects to have delivered 61 GIV/GVs and to have 150 orders for both aircraft by the show's opening. "Our focus at NBAA will be on technology and we plan to display our new EVS [enhanced vision system]-equipped GV, which will be available for customer demonstrations," says Gulfstream. US Federal Aviation Administration flight testing of the $500,000 system, designed to allow an aircraft to land in poor weather conditions, is to begin before the show, while certification and first deliveries are planned for the first and second quarter of next year, respectively. "Around 85% of Gulfstream customers are ordering head-up displays with the intention of installing EVS. The system will revolutionise aircraft avionics, and we expect it to cascade down to small [general aviation] aircraft eventually," adds Gulfstream.

With the supersonic business jet (SSBJ) debate raging, Gulfstream is expected to announce that it will extend its study of the concept for 12-18 months. Although the company stresses that such an aircraft will not be built for at least 10 years, it believes that there is a market for an SSBJ, notably from fractional ownership providers, and the idea is gaining momentum. "Technical, feasibility, environmental and certification regulation issues of operating a supersonic aircraft over land all have to be addressed first," says Gulfstream.

Much activity is expected in the bustling mid-size sectors, with traditional models, the Dassault Falcon 50, the Learjet 60 and Raytheon Hawker 800XP on parade. Cessna will show a mock-up of its "all-new" Citation Sovereign, due for certification and first deliveries in 2002.

In the increasingly popular "super mid-size" sector, the Falcon 2000 and Galaxy Aerospace Galaxy business jet will be on show, while the Bombardier Continental and Raytheon Hawker Horizon, both in varying stages of development, will be shown in mock-up form. Programme updates on all the new aircraft are planned.

The traditional light business jet market has been transformed in recent years. It is dominated by Cessna, which will celebrate the delivery of its 3,000th Citation at the show. Wichita-based Cessna, now revamping its line-up, will display all its production aircraft types. An improved Ultra, the Encore, will be available next year, followed in 2001 by its new $4.2 million CJ2, which has over 100 orders to date. Bombardier, which will display the competing Learjet 31A, will announce the 2,000th Learjet delivery and unveil a new corporate livery, modelled by its Learjet line - the 31A 45 and 60.

The new "super-light" sector, led by Bombardier's Learjet 45 and Cessna's Excel, is heating up, driven by a level of comfort usually associated with mid-size aircraft at prices similar to those of light business jets.

Another active sector is the entry-level business jet market. This is represented by Cessna's CitationJet, to be replaced by the upgraded CJ1 next year, Century Aerospace's Century Jet CA-100, which was transformed from a single to a twin at last year's NBAA show; and Sino Swearingen's SJ30-2, which can also be seen in mock-up form. Raytheon will display the third prototype of its entry-level Premier I, for which it has more than 200 orders. Certification and first deliveries are due "by the end of the year".

There is tremendous growth in the single-engined market, particularly among turboprops. Here, the decision in the past two years by Australian, Canadian and US certification authorities to reverse their bans on commercial single-engined instrument flight rule operations has driven demand for models like the Pilatus PC-12, Cessna Caravan and the New Piper Malibu Meridian, which is due for certification and first deliveries next year.

Meanwhile, as has become tradition at NBAA shows in recent years, fractional ownership providers are likely to make a surprise announcement, although it is unlikely that the show will witness a repeat of last year's spending spree by Executive Jet on aircraft for its huge Netjets programme. Bombardier plans to focus on the European arm of its Flexjet fractional ownership programme, the second largest globally. Raytheon will reveal it has signed a "celebrity" customer, through its Travel Air scheme, for a share in a Hawker 800XP.

Source: Flight International