At NBAA, Business is Good

ATLANTA — This was not a year in which a slew of new general aviation aircraft models were unveiled, but activity at the 60th annual Meeting & Convention of the National Business Aviation Association remained robust. Cessna alone reports sales of $1 billion for the week, including orders for its entry into the very light jet (VLJ) market, the Mustang. VLJs were high profile again, as they have been at recent shows. In all, some 32,000 attendees and a record 1,152 exhibitors were on hand. Besides the ongoing aviation system reauthorization debate, hot topics continue to be the changing landscape among fixed base operators, where the influx of new investors in recent times has led to consolidation and an emerging segment of new players, and the growing charter market.

The NBAA annual meeting has grown into the eighth largest trade show in the country, which is creating more challenges on where to hold the event. In particular, the featured Static Display of aircraft presents a unique challenge. [For more on this, see “Inside the Fence”, and “Inside the Industry”.]

Regarding FAA and system reauthorization, once again the ‘no user fee’ beat played on.

Comments NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, “The good news is, we’re still standing. We’ve taken a lot of shots from the airlines and what we’ve found is they haven’t knocked us out yet. We’ve passed a bill in the House of Representatives that truly does keep its eye on modernization.

It’s now time to come together, to redouble our efforts.” As of press time, Congress had not passed a joint reauthorization bill.

Meanwhile, VLJs show no signs of waning. Piper Aircraft highlighted its expansion into the jet market at the show with PiperJet, scheduled to begin deliveries in 2010. Cessna reported a sale of 30 more Mustangs to a European air-taxi operator. Cessna’s total sales at NBAA were worth more than $1 billion for 208 new aircraft orders.

Adam Aircraft has a target of 1,000 units over ten years for its composite aircraft, and is currently focusing on establishing its service center network. At Eclipse, the original VLJ manufacturer, the company is delivering Eclipse 500s and has a production rate of one per day. It is also looking at developing a single-engine, wing-tail VLJ. [After NBAA, Eclipse announced labor cutbacks due to slower than expected production levels.]

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, which projects a market for some 14,000 executive jets through 2017, has four aircraft in its Phenom 100 testing program. It reports 500 firm orders for its larger Phenom 300, with a first test flight set for 2008.

The changing FBO landscape
While mergers and acquisitions remain a staple of the FBO sector, a central focus in Atlanta was on what will happen with the 33 FBOs under the Landmark Aviation brand. Earlier this year, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) acquired Standard Aero and Landmark Aviation in an effort to focus on worldwide technical support. At that time, it announced it would divest itself of its fixed base operation network.

The current major players and potential new buyers are expected to take a look at the DAE operations, although some express concern about lease lengths at a number of the Landmark locations. Lou Pepper, president of Atlantic Aviation, says his company will probably pass on this round, having recently added 24 Mercury Air Centers to its portfolio. Atlantic is owned by Macquarie Infrastructure, an Australian firm.

Speculation is that, like Macquarie and BBA, which owns Signature Flight Support, a new offshore investor could emerge to establish a FBO network with a Landmark acquisition.

Yet, BBA president Bruce Van Allen says his firm is “definitely interested” in considering the Landmark FBOs and bringing them into the Signature network. On the issue of leases, Van Allen points to Dulles International as one location where the leasehold could be a stumbling block because of the changing footprint of commercial operations.

Van Allen continues to talk of the potential for a ‘Signature lite’ FBO model, which could include the FBO chain merely contracting to provide management services for another owner. That is a model which the Million Air chain of franchise FBOs has been exploring in recent years, and now has a track record with at Albany (NY) International. Comments Million Air president/CEO Roger Woolsey, “Albany is going very well. It’s a different model for us.” He says that the company expects to announce another three such management deals within the next six months.

Woolsey says Million Air, which has lately been placing an emphasis on new franchises, is in the process of creating a new partnership with an investor that could bring it more actively into the FBO acquisition arena.

NBAA Briefings ...

ADAM AIRCRAFT—unveils its new A700 interior, offering the largest cabin in its class with six- to seven-seat configurations. The interior also features seats that fold completely back, recline up to 20 percent, and come equipped with individual tables. A lavatory seat with private partition is also included.

ATLANTIC AVIATION—is now the largest network of FBOs with the completed acquisition of 24 Mercury Air Center locations and two facilities which had operated as the San Jose Jet Center. Atlantic Aviation now has 61 branded domestic sites.

AIR TAXI ASSOCIATION—is partnering with Virginia SATSLab, Inc., to promote its next generation air taxi focus in Virginia. Twelve target community airports will be able to use the Air Taxi Association’s Connect-IT system, designed to allow customers to find air taxis by destination.

BFB AERO SERVICES, LLC.—launches as a full-service staffing agency for aviation and aerospace sectors. The company will provide staff augmentation, contract-to-hire, and direct-hire opportunities.

BOMBARDIER AEROSPACE—announces firm orders by Aero Toy Store for two Learjet 60 XR aircraft and a Global Express XRS with the Global Vision flight deck.

CHARTERMATRIX.COM—launches its updated website to allow charter operators to post empty-leg travel in conjunction with booked flights on

ELLIOTT AVIATION—of Moline, IL introduces its new president/COO, Mick Harrison, a Bombardier ex, and profiles its new aircraft interior design center. Elliott also enters an agreement to retail AirBP fuels at its four Midwest FBOs.

EMBRAER—opens its first U.S. executive jet service centers for its Phenom and Legacy aircraft at Mesa, AZ and Hartford, CT.

EXCELAIRE—adds three new Gulfstream aircraft to its charter fleet, including the G-III, G450, and G-V. The FBO is also expanding into an additional 110,000-sq. ft. facility at MacArthur airport, creating the largest private jet facility on Long Island.

FBOOPS.COM—launches a free online aviation reservation system to help connect pilots, flight departments, and FBOs. The site database lists airports by destination, and FBOs by airport. FBOs that sign up to take reservations from the site are automatically listed on as well.

FLYCONTRACT.COM—adds contract mechanics available for contract employment to its directory.

HONDAJET—introduces a new interior concept emphasizing ergonomics and safety, as well as new exterior colors including silver, red, green, and yellow. Also introduced was the HondaJet sales and service dealer facilities, which will feature large hangars for service operations. HondaJet anticipates a first flight test of a conforming model in early 2009, with a type certification in 2010.

JETCRAFT CORP.—of Augusta, GA is named a distributor of Kollsman EVS-11 and AT-HUD systems via its Jetcraft Avionics division.

MEGADATA CORPORATION—launches Passur Fuel Portal™, an enhancement to Passur FBO™. The portal automatically calculates fuel uplift required per flight, along with aircraft and fleet activity history, for a guide to maximum volume and pricing at the point of sale. Amstat has also entered into a marketing agreement with Megadata, with Amstat owner/operator information being incorporated into some Passur products.

PIPER AIRCRAFT, INC.—selects Garmin Int’l to provide the avionics suite for its PiperJet now in design.

SATSAIR—surpasses the five million mile mark in ‘air cab’ passenger services