Every potential helicopter manufacturer exhibitor – Airbus, Bell, Enstrom, Guimbal, Kopter, Leonardo, MD Helicopters, Robinson and Sikorsky – has decided against taking space at the upcoming Vertical Flight Expo, previously known as Helitech. Representatives from each of these manufacturers (or their UK distributors) have confirmed their position to HeliHub, and none of them appear in the event Exhibitor Directory.
This will be a major blow for organisers Reed Exhibitions, and puts a question mark over the future of this exhibition. Vertical Flight Expo (ex Helitech) is the third largest helicopter trade show in the world, behind the US-based Heli Expo and Heli Russia. Airbus, Bell and Leonardo were the only three manufacturers with aircraft in the event hall when it was held in October 2018 at the RAI Centre in Amsterdam. The complete lack of manufacturer representation must be a significant embarrassment for the organisers.
In recent years Helitech has gradually repositioned itself towards the larger operators, leasing companies and manufacturers – going back to its roots as the event was founded as an offshore operator event at Aberdeen in April 1986. This retargetting led to a new and successful event Heli UK Expo being set up by AvBuyer Events from 2014 for private pilots and the lighter end of the rotary wing market.
Likely reasons for the manufacturers staying away include EHA dropping their support for the event, the location, the prevailing weather, and the political uncertainties in the UK.
Organisers Reed have chosen to host the event on 5-7 November, just days after the (still theoretical) exit of the UK from the EU on 31 October 2019, when the whole of the UK could be in a state of flux and uncertainty. A recently disclosed UK Government document outlines the level of disruption expected if a “No Deal Brexit” goes ahead. This could affect the import/export of demonstrator helicopters and travel in/out of the country for event visitors.
The average weather in southern UK for 5-7 November (according to Accuweather) is a high of 10C and a low of 6C, and with the HeliHub office just 15 miles from Farnborough, we know it is the most likely month of the year for fog. This outlook would not only deter visitors to the UK but also be a limiting factor on helicopter flying – supposedly a key reason behind the location move from a central London exhibition hall to an airfield where visitors by air and demonstration flights should theoretically be easier.
The location at Farnborough Airport – well-known for its bi-annual Air Show – has significant movement limitations and is regularly close to the annual limit allowed under local planning laws. Given the approaching year-end, the airport operator TAG Aviation would obviously give precedence to their typical long-range corporate jet visitors over a helicopter, in order to maximise their landing fee income.
As a vicarious impact of this event now being at risk, there is further implication on the UK operator organisation, the British Helicopter Association (BHA). For many years, BHA has enjoyed a “grant” from Reed Exhibitions in return for their staunch support of the event – and seven years ago we reported this as £25,000 per annum, a figure supplied to HeliHub.com by then-Chairman Brian Humphries. Only twice in the last 15 years of published accounts has BHA made a greater surplus than that figure – in calendar years 2014 and 2015. Reed’s primary interest sits with their event business, and while they have been quoted saying that they pay the “grant in support of the UK helicopter industry”, the closure of the event would lead to the financial support being withdrawn and the Association needing to retrench. Fortunately, BHA shows a figure of £312,695 in the bank at 31st December 2017, the latest available figure.
Visitor numbers at Vertical Flight Expo are expected to be much lower, despite an attempt to widen the remit with eVTOL, and recent additions of a “technology showcase” and a job market aimed at school leavers. In the words of BHA CEO Tim Fauchon “hopefully the STEM students will be attracted“.
Finally, we also notice in passing that part of the organisers heavy social media ad campaign includes a video which features both Waypoint Leasing (which went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings before being bought out by Macquarie Rotorcraft Leasing) and Flight Ascend (which has been renamed Cirium). Perhaps the marketing department for the event is also losing its focus?
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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