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July 22, 2024


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The absence of Bombardier and Gulfstream from EBACE this year continues the trend last year, when Gulfstream pulled out of NBAA last October. Now two high-end business jet manufacturers are finding that the expense of a major airshow dedicated to business aviation is not as cost-effective as other types of more focused marketing events. In addition, companies at the show are in the crosshairs of environmental protesters, who seek to point out the carbon-hungry aspects of business aviation.

It doesn’t take much digging to come to the answer of why business jet manufacturers are avoiding airshows – they place the companies directly in the line of fire for radical environmentalists, who are especially prevalent in Europe. The incident at last year’s EBACE, where radical environmentalists chained themselves to aircraft prior to being arrested, highlighted the visibility of business jets as the “elite” who abuse the environment. While business aviation has made more progress than other aviation sectors, it is a heavier producer of carbon emissions per passenger than commercial aviation, which is also an environmental target. Business aviation is viewed as the low-hanging fruit.

A third element at EBACE is the location, in Geneva. The Swiss Franc is strong against both the US dollar and Euro, making this a high-cost show. When you add up the elements, a show with fewer participants, environmental protests, and high costs simply doesn’t make as much sense as other events, as Gulfstream and Bombardier have concluded.

Does this mean the end of business aviation air shows? The answer is no, but they must adapt. Two potential adaptations including moving the show to a lower-cost location, perhaps on an alternating basis, or making the show every other year rather than annual.

The advantage of EBACE is recognizing the differences in global markets by region. Business aviation in Europe is quite different than business aviation in the US, particularly on environmental issues and future technological directions. There are some interesting participants with alternative regional aviation and alternate technology – in particular hydrogen – in attendance this year. While the jury is out as to whether these emerging technologies will be successful, EBACE can offer good exposure. Unfortunately, with fewer attendees, that exposure is not as good as it was in years past, changing the value proposition.

Notably, the supply chain presence is down at EBACE this year, which may be expected with the two largest manufacturers by revenues no longer participating. Other manufacturers, such as Embraer, have forgone a booth to simply have a static display of aircraft and downsized their presence. A key question for the future is how this show will be evaluated in terms of the cost-benefit of participation. With fewer attendees, that does not bode well.

During the pandemic, we all learned to adapt to new technologies and new ways of doing business, and doing business virtually with people we already knew became very easy and exceptionally cost-effective, as computers with cameras replaced trips by air. While one cannot yet demonstrate aircraft virtually, an OEM can provide many of the details, advantages, and performance data virtually. They can then set up demonstrations at regional private events that focus on high potential leads, rather than at general industry marketplace where those leads may be mixed with the general public, and be a more cost-effective way of marketing.

Between travel for a team, creation of an exhibit space, bringing demonstrator aircraft on site, ensuring higher security against protestors, and a costly Swiss franc, EBACE has become an expensive proposition that could easily be replaced by several more focused private events.

The Bottom Line

We may soon be asking the same questions about other airshows, including NBAA, Singapore, Dubai, Paris and Farnborough. Each of them is expensive to participate in, and may not be as cost-effective a mechanism for either generating or closing leads than innovative alternatives. After all, why should a customer for an expensive business jet come to the OEMs, rather than have them invite you and fly you to a special event with a built in demonstration flight?

In a few years, Artificial Intelligence will probably be determining the highest potential prospects and evaluating the types of events that would be appealing to the key decision makers based on a more detailed evaluation of potential prospects. The days when air shows were “the” place for industry announcements and debuts is becoming a thing of the past, as alternatives are more cost-effective.

While this won’t happen overnight, the handwriting is on the wall. So for those of you who love air shows and large industry events, enjoy them during the remainder of this decade, as they will likely evolve into something different, or not be there in the next.

author avatar
Ernest Arvai
President AirInsight Group LLC

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