Every two years the African Aerospace and Defence Expo (AAD) rolls around. We are now on short final for the 2016 expo in September.
This is the expo the exhibitors love to hate, and reluctantly agree to participate with as much enthusiasm as a dog eating cold porridge. They moan incessantly about the cost of the stands and about the general disruption to their daily business work by having to mount an exhibition.
There is a continual undercurrent of anger and resentment about being ripped-off by those select few suppliers who did whatever was required to become exploitative monopolistic suppliers to the exhibitors. Thus I just have to swallow the extortionate rental amount of R11,000 for the hire of a golf cart to move magazines around for the five days. It gives exhibitors heartburn.
At the same time the organisers come in for a huge amount of criticism. Everything seems to be left to the last minute. It doesn’t help that it is held on a military base with doltish troops, who are unable to make a decision, blocking every reasonable request.
Then the marketing is always a fiasco. The trouble is that AAD is schizophrenic – it doesn’t know whether to be a defence or general aviation expo, and thus ends up pleasing almost nobody. The key marketing requirement is to attract industry heavyweights from around the world to its three trade days, but instead it advertises its airshow on the lamp posts around Waterkloof and in parochial general aviation magazines. The weekend airshow, with mom and pop, and the kids collecting brochures, chases the serious exhibitors away, who leave behind shuttered stands, much to the ire of the organisers.
The root problem is that the show is all about making money for the three organisers who need the revenue to carry them for another two years. The customers, being the exhibitors, come second. Perhaps this is a natural consequence of having non-commercial owners and organisers, who don’t grasp the hard realities of a customer centric business.
But then the expo eventually arrives and much to everyone’s surprise, in the great tradition of theatre, it largely turns out to be all right on the night. There are still silly dysfunctionalities – VIP guests for evening events at the exhibitors’ chalets will be turned away by obdurate gate guards who insist the show is closed.
But South Africa once again muddles through. At the end of the show the majority of exhibitors will shrug their shoulders and go back to the daily grind, few with an appreciation of the effect the expo has had in injecting a shot of vitamins into an aviation industry that at times can get mired in the bog of endless legislative compliance and the pressures of operating capital intensive equipment at low margins.
Love it or hate it – the AAD Expo gives the aviation industry a much needed biennial shot in the arm.