Helitech Roundup – Was Central London the best location?

Helitech Roundup – Was Central London the best location?

3-Oct-2013 Source: HeliHub.com

The HeliHub.com team have been contacting a number of people who attended Helitech International last week – both while we were on the show floor and remotely by phone and email over the week since the event. The question we were asking was “Is Helitech a better show in a city centre location compared to an airfield?”

Almost every British visitor we spoke to was unhappy with Helitech in central London at the ExCeL convention centre. The vast majority could not justify London hotel prices, and were thus at the mercy of the busy train and underground services, mostly having to stand on every journey. This led to commuting times in and out of London of typically 45-90 minutes each way, and the time of day obviously led to busy services, mostly without the chance to sit down. Given the proportion of UK-based visitors to Helitech in London, this should be an alarm bell to the organisers.

British-based visitors who were part of a larger overseas companies – and all those based overseas – were mostly booked into hotels close to the convention centre, and they had already made the decision to pay the high rates experienced at such hotels as part of their overall commitment.

Those arriving from overseas into the nearby London City Airport on the first day of the show were badly delayed by fog in London and the subsequent “catch-up” once it cleared. Some visitors from France did not get into the show until late on the first day when they had expected to arrive first thing. We used to get foggy mornings in September at Duxford too, remember?

The mix of visitors was certainly more business-like and some contracts were signed – but the majority related to offshore operations in one way or another. Is the market telling us something?

In past years, many British private pilots took the opportunity to fly to Helitech, and on some days at Duxford we used to see over fifty helicopters parked up on the far side of the grass runway there to demonstrate just how popular it was. While the weather last week played a part, the number of helicopters using the Helitech-promoted facility at Damyns Hall airfield was neglible – only ten helicopters visited over the three days of Helitech.

The most notable absentee for us was Rolls-Royce – producers of the very popluar Model 250 (née Allison) and the RR300 turbine engines. Other companies who were at Duxford in 2011 but not in London for 2013 included Heliair, Enstrom, Eastern Atlantic Helicopters, HeliWagon, HeliTowCart, etc

From a journalism point of view, we were disappointed at the lack of announcements made at Helitech International, and wondered whether that was a general apathy by exhibitors of the event. The organisers had said all along that it was the major manufacturers and the EHA who pushed them to move from Duxford to the central London location, but in some cases the PR machine behind such organisations appeared to be at idle. Here is our summary of those “major players”

AgustaWestland – solid showing and PR machine produced lots of news items. Equal biggest stand at 514m² with an AW139 and AW189. Surprising lack of an AW109 and last time they had not just one of those but also an AW119 and Sokol as well. Perhaps even AW thought the stand space was expensive, although they clearly had the prime location in the show.

Bell – the Texas-based manufacturer put a lot more focus on Helitech than it has for many years, but still only had a 429 on the stand and a second available for demo flights for two of the three days of the event. Missed opportunity with no 407GX at least which could easily have been accomodated into their 255m² stand area. Lots of news items, which was positive.

Eurocopter – three helicopters inside (including a mockup) and two outside – but they clearly did not rate the event by running their own event for over 100 invited customers in the days just before at their Oxford base. A clear snub to Helitech organisers. 7 stories, a little bit lower than previous Helitech shows.

MD Helicopters – the Arizona-based company is more stable now than it has been for some time, but their civilian helicopter sales must continue to be a concern. They borrowed an immaculate 500E for their stand. Announcements of two MD902s and twelve MD530Fs being sold to Kurdistan came out on different releases when they were obviously all one deal, and there was nothing more. Analysis of production data by HeliHub.com suggests that this contract was likely signed some months back and only released now for this show.

Russian Helicopters – a bit too cautious? This expanding manufacturer had no helicopters to show, and only the one “we are showcasing…” press release. It would appear that they do not rate Helitech as high as other events they go to and have a much larger presence.

Sikorsky had a big 150m² stand with no aircraft or mockup, and put out just one press release about a simulator – no sales announcements at all. We really wondered whether Sikorsky even wanted to be in London at all. Fail

Pratt & Whitney – quite a small stand and no PR. Fail. (Maybe it was a UTC parent company edict, given Sikorsky is a sister company of P&W??)

Rolls-Royce – notable by their absence. Yes, they failed to even book a stand and with the expansion of the Robinson R66 (production well into the 400s already), we would have thought that a brand promotion around the RR300 and its global expansion of approved organisations would have been in order.

Turbomeca – three stories only, but perhaps that is all we’d expect as they only put five out at Heli-Expo and four at Paris. The French engine manufacturer had a larger stand two years ago.

The “In hall static display” had just six helicopters and the space around them was huge and could have easily accomodated double that number. Had Helitech expected more? There was a further curtained off area behind which could have doubled the space again and some, but six helicopters in the space for 24+ would have looked even more ludicrous.

The outdoor static display was another fail. Nice to have to tell the public what the show was about, but there appeared little effort put into the four helicopters shown beyond parking them up and putting a rope around the area.

In early September, Helitech organisers were saying “With less than a month to go, booked stand space at Helitech International 2013 is 1100m2 larger compared to the 2011 show”. This was not a valid comparison at all as the 2011 event had a huge (and successful) static park which is not included in the calculations. In 2011 there were 33 helicopters in the static park – this year there were just 10, six indoors and four outside. It is not clear if Helitech were including the 2011 hospitality chalets in their space calculations either – we suspect not.

Summary

Helitech are aiming to be the European version of the fabulously successful Heli-Expo – which is 4-6 times the size. Copying is flattery, but you need the industry behind you to justify the huge leap from a friendly airfield into an austere urban conference centre. HeliHub.com suggests that a middle ground option – an event at an airfield better located than Duxford – would have been a more agreeable solution all round – but a clear market has now opened up for an event for private and corporate helicopter owners/users which looks like it will be filled by Heli UK Expo. We expect exhibitor bookings to be lower in Amsterdam in 2014 than we have seen in London in 2013.

Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com

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