Despite Challenges, EBAA Expects Busy, Cheerful EBACE

Business Jet
Credit: RaptTV / Getty Images

As an upbeat business aviation industry is about to gather in Geneva for the first time since 2019, the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) is striving to help its members cope with a myriad issues, from the tail end of the COVID-19 crisis to the Russia-Ukraine war, upcoming regulation and the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

“We are delighted we can showcase our industry at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) again,” says Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general of the EBAA. “We are delighted about the response―exhibitors, visitors and sponsors are keen to get back on their feet and meet in-person in Geneva.” EBAA co-organizes the event with its U.S. counterpart, the National Business Aviation Association.

At 250, the number of exhibitors may be lower than in 2019, which stood at almost 400. “Applications are coming every day,” Husain Khan adds. The last exhibitors are coming later than usual. “Six months ago, there was some hesitancy because of the COVID situation,” Husain Khan explains. “Now we have clarity and the Swiss have lifted all travel restrictions.”

A visitor may expect to see some 50 aircraft―a number close to that of 2019―on the static display. The layout will be more attractive, Husain Khan says, thanks to education sessions taking place on the exhibit floor.

Innovation will be represented, notably with electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicles. EBAA sees advanced air mobility companies as a new component of the sector. “We are happy they have entered the market,” Husain Khan says. “They are showcased prominently at EBACE ... We promote membership for them to understand the benefit of being part of our industry.”

The keynote opening session will begin with Husain Khan and NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. Pilot Zara Rutherford, who circumnavigated the globe in a microlight aircraft at the age of 19, and Martina Navratilova, a former tennis champion, a pilot and an advocate of a number of humanist causes, are hoped to make inspiring contributions.

EBAA’s Standards and Training for Aviation Responsibility and Sustainability (STARS) program, aimed at helping organizations achieve improvements in their sustainability posture, will be formally launched at EBACE. The STARS initiative was developed by a group of 10 young industry professionals.

“We get them engaged,” Husain Khan says. “They tell us what environmental regulation should be in future ... and we promote their ideas.” The idea is to have your talents interested in the industry, show them attractive careers and retain them.

Looking back at the pandemic’s impact, “we recovered steeper than other parts of aviation,” Husain Khan says. “In 2021, we did quite well, the summer season was very good ... and we are continuing to do very well in 2022.”

Long-haul operations have suffered, however. “When the U.S. reopened in November, we had been deprived of transatlantic flights for 1.5 year,” Husain Khan says. “And China is still locked.” Meanwhile, profit margins are thinner in short- and medium-haul. Profits are therefore the result of harder work, Husain Khan points out.

The crisis proved an opportunity to have business aviation’s contribution appreciated. “We fly 80 humanitarian flights per day,” Husain Khan says. “When the health situation was at its worst, that peaked at 100 and 70 of them were life-saving flights.”

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, EBAA has been “appalled and horrified by the loss of lives and suffering,” Husain Khan states. At its level, the association has been gathering information from the authorities and clarifying it for its members. Various impacts can be seen, from airspace closures to a decrease in demand for maintenance, repair and overhaul services. Business opportunities are being lost, says Husain Khan.

Meanwhile, the effect of the UK leaving the EU (Brexit) has been fading away. After significant complications when it became effective on Jan. 31, 2021, the situation has improved, according to Husain Khan. “We strived to mitigate the red tape and unclarity,” he says. “There are still issues here and there ... and COVID has obscured the effects of Brexit, as it is hard to tell whether a decrease in traffic is due to Brexit or COVID.”

What about the volatile U.S. stock market and inflation? “Business aviation is still robust,” Husain Khan says. “The industry follows the world’s economic trend with a 2-3 month time lag so, if the tendency continues, we will see a decline in our market in the years to come.” For the time being, the second-hand market is seen as mature despite inflation and interest rates. “There is an uptick in first movers,” he adds.

EBAA is continuing to lobby for fair regulations. One of the sector’s salient concerns lies in flight-time limitations, perceived as unsuitable. “We are put on a par with network carriers, despite our differences,” Husain Khan says. “The outcome is lost opportunities.”

Simultaneously, EBAA is promoting SAF. Again, a rule being created essentially for commercial air transport operators is deemed unfitting. The flaw Husain Khan sees in the proposed EU regulation is that small airports will not be required to have SAF storage facilities, thus preventing a number of business aviation flights to uplift SAF. “Book-and-claim schemes are the answer,” Husain Khan says. A book-and-claim program allows customers to purchase and receive credits for SAF without having to take physical possession of the fuel.

EBAA otherwise welcomes the RefuelEU legislation, as it is seen as fostering research and investment.

On another environmental front, the association has launched an education effort against wildlife trafficking. “The industry can be more active,” Husain Khan says. “We can be part of an international commitment that airports and airlines have signed .... We are creating awareness.”

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.