Popular Refrain: 'It is what it is'

Annual show of shows is subdued ... yet, a recent upturn in business brings optimism

ORLANDO — The biggest news of this year’s annual Meeting & Convention hosted by the National Business Aviation Association here in October was the show itself. No record-setting this year; no flurry of new aircraft introductions, no earth-shattering orders. The event reflected the step back that business aviation has been forced to take during the past year, due to economic and political forces. But the 22,920 in attendance plodded along, encouraged by reports across the trade show floor that many companies had experienced an ‘uptick’ in activity in August and September.

NBAA reports that attendance was down one-fourth from the 30,811 that attended in 2008. Ninety-one percent, or 1,075 of the exhibitors from last year’s convention, returned for 2009.

Actual floor space was down some 16 percent, the group says, with some manufacturers only exhibiting at the Static Display, with some 100 aircraft at Orlando Executive.

The most visible sign of change was exemplified by Cessna Aircraft Company, which was conspicuous by its absence from the trade show floor.

Comments Cessna chairman Jack J. Shelton, “We’re going ‘back to basics’ this year at NBAA, concentrating on exhibiting our products at the static display and not having a booth in the convention hall.”

Regarding the economy itself, Pelton says, “I’m far from ready to call a turnaround, but we do continue to see some encouraging developments.Financing is more readily available, used aircraft inventory is lowering, and prices for used aircraft have increased for the first time in several quarters.

“Average Daily Utilization figures for the Citation fleet have stopped dropping, and bookings for maintenance work are on the rise. We are seeing signs of stabilization and some indicators that the business jet market is starting to move in a positive direction. Single-engine retail sales have been particularly strong in recent weeks which is usually a forerunner for the rest of the product line.”

FAA talks SMS
This year’s opening general session featured a presentation by FAA administrator J. Randolph Babbitt on the topic of safety management systems (SMS). Says Babbitt, “There’s data all over the place, but in too many instances, we can’t get to it.

“In order to ratchet up the level of safety, safety management systems are the only option. When you have as few accidents as we do, it’s difficult to spot a trend with a chart that has only three data points on it. SMS is the solution.” SMS doesn’t wait for accidents, he says, and industry has nearly eliminated the common causes of aviation accidents. “But safety management systems will allow us to spot precursors,” says Babbitt. “That’s the data; that’s where we need to dig.”

The fact of the matter is we can’t regulate professionalism, he says. “That’s why I continue to stress the need for mentoring; it’s clear that SMS will enable us to connect the dots with the data — professionalism and mentoring will help us put it to good use,” relates Babbitt.

Tapping Social Media
New to the annual convention program was a session dedicated to relating the value of social media and the best ways to use it. In many ways, social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are changing the way business aviation professionals are communicating with each other. Comments JetWhine blogger Rob Mark, “The one thing I have found personally about social media is that I have met more people that I would have never met in my life.”

Mark says that social media to him is really about engagement; and conversation. “We are really using new technology to do something we have all been doing all of our lives, which is talking to and trying to find people that we have something in common with,” says Mark. “The beauty of the technology is that now with certain kinds of keywords, tags, and such, you can easily find those people.” Mark warns however, that social media is a tool, and not the “be all, end all of business.”

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