What is the point of air shows and industry conventions? Despite reports of their terminal decline in an era of modern communications, the busy calendar of 2004 events shows an industry still convinced of their benefits

There are few occasions as good as air shows for gauging the health of the aerospace industry - or a particular sector or region within that industry. Numbers of exhibitors, visitors, product launches or order announcements are all strong indicators of the feel good factor and the way the market is headed.

However, for years sceptics have been predicting the slow death of the air show as a vital industry forum. While a Farnborough or Paris would once have been the world's chance to glimpse the latest aircraft, today genuinely new programmes are few and far between. Airframers are ending the charade of storing up orders to announce at shows. Modern media methods mean there are more cost-effective ways of communicating with existing and potential customers than the vast expense of taking a large contingent of marketing and sales staff - and products - half way around the world.

Yet the truth is that air shows are flourishing and expanding, even in the current economic climate. The last few years have seen the emergence of two small, but successful, annual business aviation conventions in South America and Europe - both offshoots of the giant National Business Aviation Association event in the USA. And, while the world's biggest aviation market has to make do with the Wright Brothers first flight celebrations this December as its main aerospace showpiece (another centennial-based event - Aviation's World Fair - was set for this summer but failed), Europe continues to support three multi-sector aviation shows every two-year cycle: Berlin, Farnborough and Paris.

Bouncing back

Meanwhile, Dubai, shaken by a spate of cancellations in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001, is set to bounce back in December 2003, and Asian Aerospace in Singapore in February will benefit from the post-SARS recovery among the region's airlines, all keen to add capacity as tourist and business traffic grows. Next year's biggest air show, Farnborough in July, suffers from the proximity of Berlin's ILA two months earlier, which enjoys the patronage of German industry, including EADS, and the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE), in May, which has creamed off the UK show's business aviation clientele. But the Society of British Aerospace Companies, which organises Farnborough, is unlikely to yield to long-running pressure from some international companies for a single big European show every other year, especially after its more successful rival, Paris, was this year hitby a transatlantic boycott over France's policy on Iraq.

Later in the year, NBAA in October - returning to Las Vegas for the first time in six years - could be the launch pad for the long-awaited recovery in the business aviation sector, which most pundits predict will kick in properly in 2005, sparked by pent up demand caused by an ageing fleet and rising corporate travel budgets.

Other biennial events making their return in an even-numbered year include Africa Aerospace in South Africa in October. The organisers portray the event as an ideal shop window for international companies looking to do business in Africa as well as an opportunity for the country's own defence sector - which grew up during the country's apartheid isolation - to display its wares. Also in the defence market, Paris's Eurosatory in June remains the region's biggest arms fair, while South America's aerospace market is served by FIDAE in Santiago, Chile, in April. A host of annual shows serving niche markets make up the year's calendar. These include the World Airline Entertainment Association convention in Seattle in September, the Air Venture general aviation get-together in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in August and the Regional Airlines Association conference in St Louis, Missouri, in April.

On the conference front, Flight International will address the issue of missile protection on civil airliners with a conference in Washington DC on 28 January (contact for information).

Source: Flight International