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Rise in attendance, exhibitors at NBAA
October 17, 2011
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  • By: Molly McMillin
    October 14, 2011

    Deliveries of the HondaJet, a light business jet, will be a year late, company officials said this week at the National Business Aviation Association’s annual convention.

    The delay is due to the need to redesign the GE Honda Aero HF 120 engine after an on-ground ice ingestion test failed.

    The company, based in Greensboro, N.C., expects certification of the engine in the second half of 2012. Suppliers and customers – about 100 planes have been sold – have been informed of the delay.

    HondaJet had its largest exhibit space ever at this week’s NBAA at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which featured a full-size interior mockup of the plane. It also showcased its avionics and in-flight entertainment system.

    It also was on display at the static display at Henderson Executive Airport.

    Although these are tough economic times for the business jet industry, that didn’t keep visitors from attending this week’s NBAA convention in Las Vegas.

    “It’s clear that the convention continues to be a must-attend event for anyone whose passion or profession involves business aviation,” NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said.

    The 64th annual NBAA convention ran Monday through Wednesday and drew 26,077 people, a 7 percent increase in attendance over last year’s show.

    The number of exhibitors increased 2 percent to 1,106 and 101 airplanes were on display.

    The number of international visitors spiked 23 percent this year, with nearly 4,000 attendees from 88 countries.

    “By every key measure, this year’s convention met or exceeded NBAA’s expectations,” Bolen said.

    Everyone in the industry turns out for the show, including many businesses and organizations from Wichita.

    “It’s a very small community,” Paul Jones, with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, said about the industry.

    NIAR is one of the organizations that partnered with the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition to share booth space.

    Besides manning the booth and talking about NIAR to visitors, Jones met friends and former co-workers all week.

    “It’s amazing how many people make a stop in their careers in Wichita, Kansas,” Jones said.

    The down economy may not be conducive to an $80 million supersonic business jet just now, but that’s not stopping Aerion Corp., said Wichitan Brian Barents, Aerion’s vice chairman and a former executive at Learjet and Cessna Aircraft.

    The company launched Aerion Technologies this year and is working with multiple airframers interested in Aerion’s natural laminar flow technology it uses in the design of a supersonic jet.
    “We believe we can improve the efficiencies and ultimately, the range and efficiencies of high subsonic airplanes that can be used by various manufacturers around the world,” Barents said.
    The technology has broad use, he said.

    “We have projects ongoing both in the commercial and in the defense side of the industry.”
    Barents said he can’t disclose details of those projects because of nondisclosure agreements.
    In the meantime, testing of a supersonic jet continues, Barents said.

    “It’s very much alive,” he said of the program.

    “It’s kind of difficult in this economic environment to launch on a program of that magnitude,” Barents said. “But we’re still very hopeful by the level of interest we continue to see.”
    Aerion’s $4 billion order backlog remains intact, he said.

    “I think that indicates the overall acceptance of the program, and people’s acceptance to wait until such time we bring it to market,” Barents said. “We still are very encouraged and are looking forward to an ultimate announcement at some point in the future.”

    Aerion, based in Reno, Nev., was formed in 2002 to work on a commercial supersonic jet, led by Robert Bass of Keystone group in Dallas.
    Aviation security

    Charlie LeBlanc, president of Security Services for Frontier Medex in Houston, is an advocate for aviation safety and security.

    One of the biggest challenges he’s working on from an advocacy standpoint is on trying to rescind what’s called the BARR program, or Block Aircraft Registration Request, enabled by Congress in 2000.

    The program blocked public knowledge of aircraft movement by request. In August, Congress curtailed the program.
    Requests to block flights from flight-tracking websites will be honored only if they’re due to a “valid security concern.” The rest will not be approved.

    Not letting operators block their flights from being tracked is a security issue, LeBlanc said. And there are constitutional concerns as well as other issues, such as the proprietary nature of some flights in which business is done.

    “If I see an airplane is moving to a particular location, especially to a smaller town, it’s not hard to put one plus one together,” he said.

    “I deal with security. If I can track them (business executives and others), and I can see patterns, it allows me to plan things against them, acts against them that I would not normally be able to do if their tail numbers were blocked.”

    In addition, there are other threats facing business aviation, he said.

    For example, business jet operators and flight departments must prepare and understand specific threats that they may find at a location, such as the emergence of an unexpected crisis.

    Larger private aircraft flying longer distances has opened up the world. LeBlanc’s business provides up-to-the-minute intelligence and briefings on any potential risks, such as what’s going on in a particular country, city or airport and recommendations on how to avoid them.

    It can provide something simple – such as ground transportation, drivers and hotel accommodations – to armored vehicles, guards for the airplane or the CEO and other services.

    “Our world has changed and continues to change,” LeBlanc said.

    Bruce Peddle, vice president of sales and marketing at fractional ownership company Flexjet, is looking forward to the entry of Bombardier’s Learjet 85 business jet.

    Flexjet, based in Dallas, was the launch customer for the Learjet 85 program. It has seven of the planes on order with deliveries beginning in 2013, Peddle said.

    Already, it has sold a plane and a half, or about 24 fractional shares.

    “We’re very excited about the program,” Peddle said.

    There’s a lot of interest in the aircraft, with its new technology and all-composite fuselage, he said.

    Flexjet’s business is up, he said. Sales are up this year 120 percent. Learjet aircraft represents about 30 percent of Flexjet’s business.

    The company is seeing what Peddle calls the traditional bounce that’s tied to economic expansion, with a weak quarter followed by a strong quarter.

    Without expansion in the economy, it’s difficult to get to sustainable growth, Peddle said.

    Flexjet has focused on customer retention, winning new business from competitors, improving service and flexible programs, he said.

    Date: 2011-10-14