And It Was A Winner From Practically Every Angle
By ANN Correspondent Dave Higdon
Ed Bolen smiled broadly when he walked out of the Board Room at
the headquarters stand of the National Business Aviation
"We're almost done," said Bolen, president of the NBAA. He'd
just walked out of a board of director's meeting; workers inside
the cavernous North/South Wing of the Orange County Convention
Center already labored at removing the exhibits representing a
record number of vendors who occupied an NBAA record number of
booth spaces. Attendance - not yet officially tallied - rose toward
the 29,000 mark. Not a record, but not a problem.
The NBAA staff and its volunteer companies pulled it off.
From Out Of The Wreckage, A Winner
The association staff, as most know by now, suddenly faced the
need to relocate the 58th Annual Convention of the NBAA after
Hurricane Katrina wreaked her havoc on the Gulf Coast and rendered
the long-planned location in New Orleans an untenable option. Nine
weeks out from the original dates, NBAA had to find a new home.
And it's not exactly the kind of meeting you can just drop
anywhere. In fact, over the past decade the list of suitable cities
shrank to basically three - New Orleans, Las Vegas and Orlando.
Hotel rooms for nearly 30,000 within easy distance of the
convention site is a must; a hall with more than 1 million square
feet - in one building, please - was another must. The toughest
nut: An airport capable of hosting a static display of aircraft
plus hundreds of member's aircraft.
In near record time,
Orlando won the draw and the work started in earnest. Exhibit
distribution had to be done; new programs printed, new maps of the
exhibit halls, housing, ground transportation, distributing new
information to members. Three years of advance planning had to fit
into the time available.
T-Minus 10 weeks from when Katrina struck. So, think the staff
arrived a little pooped? "Yeah, but we were energized," said Bolen
(above), still unbelievably energetic in attitude, even if he
looked a little road weary.
"We didn't want an event that people said was a 'nice show,
considering,'" Bolen observed. "We wanted an event that had people
saying, 'Nice show!'"
From all indication, Bolen and his team of pros succeeded.
"We're going to be talking to people in depth to gauge their
feelings a little farther away from the convention," he noted. "But
we've been hearing a lot of positive things about this one."
"We think the attendance numbers will be good, strong. People
really partied at our Gala (Thursday evening) and showed their
enthusiasm," said Bolen. The Pointer Sisters warmed up the audience
- which sold out in record time, by the way. "But when the Doobie
Brothers started singing "China Grove" it seemed everybody in the
audience knew the lyrics - and the lyrics to all the other
The evening - a fundraiser for hurricane victims - was, Bolen
conceded, "something different" for us. "But the people had a good
time - and it showed."
The Downsides? Few And Far Between
So nothing this size - and organized on this short a time frame
- ever goes perfectly, right? Well, sure - but Bolen's criticisms
were few and far between. And Bolen's not prone to dodging the
downsides of questions.
His appeal to members to use a special kiosk to e-mail members
of Congress opposing the airline industry's latest scheme to shift
costs to general aviation seem to come up a little short of his own
high expectations. "I never saw people waiting to use the
computers; but they may have been responding on their own, given so
many people here have their own access avenues. Still, he must keep
pushing our members to get engaged in this, because if we don't
business aviation will suffer."
"The Showalters did a great job with the static," Bolen noted.
Bob and daughter Kim Showalter, of Showalter Aviation at ORL, have
years of experience running NBAA statics - and this year was among
the best seen by many observers' comments. "But getting in and out
from the streets took longer than I expected when I went out. What
we can control was excellent - can't control the traffic flow,
All in all, the weaknesses Bolen mentioned aren't problems that
can be blamed on anything related to the late venue change - and
street access into ORL is often difficult, NBAA convention or
And The Hit Spots? Well, Overall, It Was The Sum Of The
"I'm happiest that, I think, we met our definition of success,"
said Bolen. "I think it was a good show, period."
The move of the NBAA Convention into the OCCC's North/South
Wing, a square building across International Drive from the long,
thin, narrow rectangle that is East/West Wing used in the past,
proved a hit with Bolen - and the vendors, delegates and
journalists, for that matter. "I was delighted by the square
layout," Bolen noted. "You don't think about the fact that when you
make appointments for several stops in a day that you might be
facing a mile-and-half walk from one to the other…and back
"But that was often the case across the street." In the new
facility, it must be noted, the longest walk from one extreme of
the hall to the opposite extreme took but a few minutes. True, the
aisles still added up to miles of walking on concrete - but easier,
shorter walking compared to the prior OCCC home of NBAA.
Next up: Some Familiar Venues -- While Another One Bites
Next year, NBAA returns to the OCCC for the 59th Annual meeting
next year; then Atlanta for the 60th Anniversary gathering in 2007;
then back to New Orleans for 2008.
No more, however, Las Vegas - the city that was hardest to get
onto the NBAA calendar, the city where NBAA attendance hit its
high-water mark, showing its appeal to delegates. Last year's
experience with the Static Display in Henderson, however, left
a bad taste in the mouths of exhibitors and vendors, alike. "It was
too far, we had to drive a gravel road to look at Gulfstreams and
Challengers, the aircraft exhibit was a mile-long taxiway," Bolen
So Vegas is falling off the list. "But it wasn't just about one
bad trip. It really is about them not wanting us there." NBAA
people do love Vegas, Bolen acknowledged. NBAA people bring $30
million to the cities that host their convention. "They just didn't
like our business aircraft there and they weren't accommodating,"
he continued. "We're a business aviation organization and they are
hostile to business aviation."
So bye-bye Vegas. NBAA is one organization that does put its
money where its mouth is.