When it comes to the world’s biggest business jet show, what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.
The National Business Aviation Association’s 63rd annual convention opens Tuesday in Las Vegas, bringing together business leaders, government officials, manufacturers, corporate aviation departments, airplane owners and operators from Wichita and around the world.
Hundreds of Wichitans will be attending or displaying products and services, meeting with customers, potential customers, suppliers and others. The contacts they make boost future sales and their business.
The show runs through Oct. 24 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. About 85 airplanes will be on display at the Henderson Executive Airport. Organizers expect 25,000 attendees and 1,100 exhibitors.
“The primary excitement (of the show) is being with our customers,” said Brad Thress, senior vice president for business jets at Cessna Aircraft.
Cessna will host a special customer event there as well.
The industry, however, isn’t gambling on a huge uptick in orders.
There is cautious optimism in the market, although the industry faces a global economy that doesn’t seem to be recovering nearly fast enough.
“It’s still tough,” Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group. “I certainly hope that last year was the bottom of the trough.”
Still, “I sense there is more optimism than there was,” Bunce said.
Thress, with Cessna, said the company isn’t seeing big improvements in the market.
“We’re still bouncing along the bottom,” Thress said. “We’re not seeing dramatic improvement. ... It’s just been more of the same.”
Cessna officials are enthusiastic, however, about the new products they have been working to certify – the revamped Citation X, Citation Sovereign and the Citation M2 business jets.
“It’s finally our chance to have all of the hard work on development and certification come to fruition for our customers,” Thress said. “We’ve been working very hard at getting the three new jets certified. We’re finally very close. ... We’re pleased to show them to the order holders and customers.”
Nearly 30 aviation-related companies from the Wichita area will be exhibiting. One of those is Mid-Continent Controls, which has had an exhibit at NBAA for about 10 years.
It’s a chance to show off the company’s cabin management and entertainment products, including some new products, and explore new ideas in products as well.
“All of our customers are there,” said Mid-Continent Controls sales manager Bret Heinz. “All the aircraft manufacturers are our customers, all the customers who buy aircraft are there.”
Customers want wireless access to the Internet on board their airplanes like they do in their offices or homes.
“You want it to be a good show, but you never know for sure who’s going to show up,” Heinz said.
This year’s NBAA will be the first for the restructured Beechcraft Corp., which came out of bankruptcy in February as a revamped, smaller company building Baron, Bonanza and King Air products.
“I am so excited,” said Shawn Vick, a Beechcraft executive vice president. “I think our exhibit at NBAA is going to be a lot of fun. We have worked hard to elevate our level of play at NBAA and other events around the world.”
Beechcraft will have 10 planes on static display at the airport and an exhibit inside the convention hall.
The company won’t be announcing any new products this year at the show.
It’s taking 2013 to listen to the marketplace to understand what the market wants over the next five to 10 years as it relates to new product development, Vick said.
Beechcraft has the good fortune of having its King Air products that fit numerous missions, such as for use as air ambulances, flight inspections and others, Vick said.
The King Air is also used by small and midsize businesses.
“People come into the marketplace who are growing their businesses and are acquiring Beechcraft airplanes for the first time,” Vick said. “The airplane is so much more economical than a light jet.”
The company expects to continue to see guarded optimism in the market.
There are indications of modest improvement, Vick said, “with areas of good news and areas that are continuing to be challenged.”
Interviewed earlier this week, the government shutdown was a topic on just about everyone’s mind.
“I think we can expect to hear a great deal of dissatisfaction that’s being undertaken in Washington in our elected officials and the executive branch,” Vick said, if the debt-ceiling issue and government shutdown have not been resolved by Tuesday
During the shutdown, manufacturers and others have not been able to finalize sales of aircraft because of the shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Registry office in Oklahoma City.
“It feels like, once again, the business aviation sector gets unfairly singled out,” Vick said.
In the meantime, Beechcraft is running its business normally.
“We’re managing our supply chain relationships,” he said. “We’re building airplanes in accordance with our planned schedule. We have many many sold airplanes. And the longer this goes, the more customers who are unintentionally sidelined and cannot take delivery of their airplanes.”
“We need to all get back to business,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to grow this economy.”