Strolling the million or so square feet of exhibit space at the NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, you’d swear you’d stepped into some strange parallel universe where the business aviation industry’s worst-ever downturn simply never happened. The show floor is packed with people and products, business jet makers aren’t skimping on their lavish Vegas exhibits and the mood – unlike at the past three conventions – is upbeat bordering on bubbly.
Maybe everybody’s just happy to be back in Las Vegas after a hiatus of seven years, during which time the convention has alternated between Orlando and Atlanta – the only American cities besides Vegas and New Orleans with large enough convention centers and nearby executive airports. Or maybe people truly believe the worst of the downturn has passed and a return to prosperity is now within sight.
One thing is for certain: now is the perfect time for the NBAA Convention to make a return to the state of Nevada. Las Vegas is the second most popular business travel destination in the United States behind New York City. People want to come here. The National Business Aviation Association had avoided holding the convention in Sin City after being forced to move its static aircraft display from the ultra-convenient McCarran Airport at the doorstep of Vegas Strip to the not-so-convenient Henderson Executive Airport, which besides being far away can also be dusty when the wind is blowing.
But show organizers have figured out a compromise of sorts. For the first time ever at an NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention, aircraft were being displayed right outside the convention center, directly adjacent to the indoor exhibits. Most of them are smaller airplanes powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6s, although there’s also a Cessna Citation and even an Aviat Husky on display.
This year’s NBAA Convention won’t break attendance records and there haven’t been a huge number of blockbuster announcements, but to the relief of everybody, this year’s show felt a little like the “good old days,” when the future seemed incredibly bright and anything possible. We aren’t back to that level of unbridled euphoria certainly, but that’s okay. Given what the industry has been through the last three years, hopeful optimism feels really good.