The National Business Aircraft Association show made it into the Orlando Convention Center unscathed Oct. 30-Nov. 1 despite an on-again/off-again Presidential TFR, turmoil from Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast and economic headwinds in the industry. Show attendance looked thin but official numbers said otherwise. Along with multi-million dollar jets, more everyday GA was on display. And while one hero was to be remembered, a second often took the honors wherever he went.
Official NBAA attendance was 25,150, not a record, but comparable to other recent shows. This year, though, show aisles did seem more sparsely populated. The general sessions were held in a draped-off area, not in a separate auditorium. But perhaps this long-time show-goer was just remembering the heydays. And some key players from the Northeast did stay home. but in any case, NBAA is a BIG show. Navigating the exhibit hall from one corner to the other is a hike not for the meek or weary.
The quality and importance of what happens at NBAA can’t be doubted. Business aviation today is where it’s happening. It’s big bucks. It’s important people. It’s industry leaders promoting GA’s newest and highest performing products. And it’s thousands of supporting entities: Airports, FBOs and fuel companies, parts makers and product innovators, completion centers and many, many business support services you hadn’t thought of before.
My reason for attending this year was the NBAA/AOPA Light Business Aircraft initiative showcasing light aircraft useful for business. There were also seminars of interest for those new to business aviation or wanting to get started with a smaller aircraft.
Outside the exhibit hall was a small Light Business Aircraft static display, close at hand compared to the 100-airplane NBAA static off-site at Orlando Executive Airport. The LBA static boasted a big exhibit by Piper plus single planes from Eclipse, Quest, Husky and others. There was a side-by-side featuring Cirrus’ SR22 and its SF50 single-engine jet mock-up. Fittingly just inside from the Cirrus static was a booth and mock-up promoting Alan Klapmeier’s big, sleek Kestrel single-engine turboprop. Most of these LBA airplanes seemed to belong. The Quest looked capable and ready to work; the SR-22 (with BRS safety system) made its point with a clever sign: “Chute Happens. Live With It.”
This NBAA show was officially dedicated to the late Neil Armstrong, billed not only as a humble space pioneer but business aviation supporter. Also noted was the just-departed Al Ueltschi, founder and long-time CEO of FlightSafety International. He brought formal airline-style training and sims to business aviation, was admired by all and was a personal friend to many here.
At a kick-off National Aviation Hall of Fame reception, Astronaut Gene Cernan was the headliner to memorialize Armstrong — but he spent considerable time honoring another legend as “our best living pilot.” It was Bob Hoover, one of several former Hall of Famers present, including the likes of aerobat Sean Tucker and Cessna ex-CEO Russ Meyer. In fact, you couldn’t help but notice the parade of industry leaders approaching Hoover to pay their respects. And all week in the exhibit hall, informal crowds gathered as Hoover scootered through, politely stopping at length to chat with young and old while remaining the kindly, chipper gentleman and modest hero he is.
I hope to tell you other stories from NBAA in upcoming posts. They should be of interest whether you fly for business or not.
Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
Story and Photos © 2012 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved