The Shanghai Bizav Show 27-29 March 2012

Anyone know the Mandarin for “Cool Aid” ?

Shanghai ABACE show-goers and exhibitors can now breath a sigh of relief….the weather did cooperate and the show was a success.

Predictions for cold temperatures and rain (think English summer) did not materialize and in fact, the weather was perfect for strolling the static display and marveling at Jackie Chan’s paint job on his (is it really his ?) Legacy 650. As if Embraer Legacy re-sale values aren’t bad enough, his paint job will be top of the ‘hit-list’ for potential buyers come disposal time (but then again, this will probably be Embraer’s problem, not Jackie’s.).

We counted multiple Legacy 650 photo-ops in multiple aviation magazines during the show and ‘leaping Jackie Chans’ in almost every image, Jackie must have been a very tired celebrity after the show…..it was almost as if Jackie had invented aviation, however, we all know that either a Frenchman or an American were responsible for the mass of shiny and painted metal on the Hongqiao ramp area at Hawker Pacific.

The show was extremely well organized, even judged against US standards and we noticed very few hiccups. ‘Hats-off’ to NBAA for this and for clearly having learned some lessons from last year’s SIBAS-sponsored event.

The biggest ‘gotcha’ was the lines at security …. A few thousand visitors being shepherded through two screening portals led to some tiresome and annoying  (not to mention lengthy) delays at peak times of entry. Even at non-peak times the wait was ‘testing’. At least the serious-looking security-screeners were a lot more courteous and less intrusive than most of their TSA counterparts in the US. Perhaps there’s a cottage industry opportunity there for the taking….security-screening charm school ?

One other noteworthy observation….we tried to feed our starving masses (booth personnel) on the first day….not only  did the food line rival the security line at the entrance, but the price of a sandwich (actually a slice of a sandwich) was an astonishing 240RMB. The Ritzy sandwich stall ran out half way through what should have been ‘lunch break’, but not before hiking the price a further 60RMB to make it an almost even $50 (yes, you read that correctly…fifty US dollars !) for a lousy sandwich slice. We were saved by a savvy Ukrainian jet broker friend of mine who directed us to a noodle joint off the premises, about a ten minute walk from the rip-off Ritzy sandwich stall. Four of us (VIP show guest included) dined on four courses for 50RMB)…..the VIP noodle joint had obviously never had it so good and the food was delicious !

We discovered that press conferences in China are probably more popular than anywhere else on earth and are dutifully attended by anyone willing to drink the various flavors of cool aid on offer from the OEM’s and other spinmeisters.

Orders and commitments and cooperations and joint-ventures and MOU’s were being announced like bans being read for a wedding. Whether or not any of this will eventually bode well for extra-China participants remains to be seen.

Hawker is still trying to flog the Horizon (oops, sorry, the 4000) and is claiming that this jet is very popular amongst Chinese buyers because of its “strong brand name”……hmmmm….that must be “strong” as in “indestructible” because I do seem to remember an HS 800 landing minus an engine that was taken out by a SAM in Africa a few years ago. Whether or not Hawker will be in business much longer to deliver on that “strong brand” remains to be seen.

The other OEM’s seemed to be ‘entertaining’ at pre-2008 US financial meltdown levels, but then again, this is the same environment that spawned the plethora of orders at the Vegas NBAA show last October.

Support vendors are starting to gain a toehold in Asia in general and China in particular, but again, even though foot-binding is now outlawed in most of China, don’t expect to see unfettered access to this fertile territory. These are the aviation niches that are easiest to assimilate and replicate in China. One support services vendor has just announced an interior refurbishment facility in Hong Kong and mainland China is hot on its heels.

Training is assuming a “front and center” focus for the region, western expertise will be required to boost the core understanding and guidance of the training curriculums. Given that most of the indigenous talent will be starting from ab initio level, there’s a fairly long lead into the upper levels of experience and professionalism required to provide adequate safety margins in the cockpit and maintenance disciplines.

Manpower availability goes hand-in-hand with the above training issue. Given the non-aviation journalist descriptions of vast numbers of Chinese college students migrating overseas for their educations, it is not going to be easy to attract the quality of student required to enter the highly-skilled arenas of airline and private jet flying and maintenance.

There has been no formal indication as yet that China is willing to relax licensing rules so as to encourage and allow foreign pilots and mechanics to participate at a meaningful level in their nascent system. This does not even take into consideration the considerable language hurdle (written and spoken) that is probably the biggest natural barrier that can be invoked by China so as to protect its employment in the airline and private jet industries.

These manpower and training issues will constrain growth to a far greater extent than the much ballyhooed “airspace and airport access liberalization” program in China.

Onwards and Upwards…..!

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