Experiencing the Gathering of Business Aviation in San Diego …

Jan. 18, 2012
… one gets the sense that this week has been a lesson in resiliency

This year’s NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers conference has been an inspiration if for no other reason than this is definitely an industry segment which has taken on the attitude of moving beyond the economic downturn and White House bashing. This in the face of an Administration that appears determined to drop a user fee package upon it and raise the cost of operations, to little benefit other than more money for the Washington spending machine.

The 2012 National Business Aviation Association’s S&D meeting returned to its normal state of vibrancy, with a record number of 407 exhibitors and total attendance of more than 2,400, according to an association spokesperson. The record for the show is over 2,600, achieved in the topsy-turvy year of 2008.

The ever-acquiring World Fuel Services continues to be on the industry segment’s collective consciousness, particularly among fixed base operators, despite the fact it prefers to acquire rather than talk about its acquisitions. The multi-billion dollar, Miami-based company that specializes in aviation, marine, and land fuel products and services likes to maintain a quiet public profile, so as not to disturb its value to shareholders. Think Macquarie, parent of the Atlantic Aviation chain of FBOs.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty of the future role of long-time aviation supplier Phillips 66 has been diminished. It had been brought on by the earlier announcement that ConocoPhillips would be split into two companies, one focused on upstream operations (exploration, etc.) and downstream (refining and distribution). The matter is expected to be resolved later this spring, and downstream will include aviation distribution; sources say the expected outcome is a focus on maintaining and growing its aviation industry presence.

Looking beyond fuel, the FBO industry continues to grow its presence at S&D, evidenced by rows of companies waving their fuel distribution brand. Overnight the banner waving has become a staple of this event. The new presentation style appears to aid the schedulers and dispatchers who are the exhibitors’ target. Even with all the industry retrenching that has occurred since 2008 among charters and corporate flight departments, they remain vital contacts to the FBO business.

An interesting side note to all of this is the giveaways by the FBOs. It’s an aspect of the show that has become quite unique among trade shows. The S&D audience is predominantly female, and the exhibitors have figured out that catering to that fact gets attention. From designer purses to jewelry, the giveaways are a draw and a source of creativity. My personal favorite: Tampa International Jet Center’s urn with an etching that suggests its purpose is for the ashes of misbehaving pilots. Fun.

Thanks for reading. jfi