On Day One, everyone poured into the show with great excitement and anticipation about the prospects for 2017. The number and quality of attendees were rated as extremely good and everyone was upbeat about the show and the future. Everyone that had attended Louisville bitched about it, everyone that didn't go was extremely happy that they hadn't gone. There were more surplus Blackhawks on display than Robinsons, this was a first.
Sikorsky had a huge area with very little in it. A Korean Coastguard S92 and a lot of Koreans furiously writing notes, while a huge range of cloned salesmen in matching suits seemed to mill around with nothing much to do, apart from anticipating the arrival of customers clutching bulging checkbooks to place massive orders, which just didn't happen. Oh, and there was a beautiful and elusive S76D there as well which got people really excited. NOT. Sikorsky did play loud and exciting electronic tech music, which felt a little incongruous with the conservative business model of the gray people there.
Airbus had and ENORMOUS space. It was brightly lit and had a bunch of helicopters in it, although they all looked the same and each had little seating areas next to it, very much like an automobile showroom. They had millions of unidentifiable personnel on duty. They all looked glamorous, fashionable and spoke with such cool accents. An Astar, now called an H125, with a huge sign on the side stating it was "Made in America"; a rather cynical gentleman near to me laughed and said it should read "Assembled in America" as it apparently arrives in a knock down form from the Motherland and is simply finally assembled in Dallas. It is hard to determine whether that little marketing effort was a salute to President Trump, or European paranoia? The overall stage for this enormous display was tempered by the choice of music, which apparently was from the Funeral Home Greatest Hits Vol 396. I felt very downbeat when I left.
Over at Bell, they had all sorts of things going on. For what seemed the twentieth show in a row, I witnessed some kind of delivery of a new and strange looking, new-fangled, foreign registered Fakeranger, by a man with a cute accent; I actually thought I was back at the Airbus side. No-one seemed to be rushing to the 525, as it wasn't actually available yet and the show was already full of existing types that no-one could sell. But then, Bell had an amazing movie prop apparently made by a high school shop team. I'm not sure exactly what it was supposed to be, but I have a feeling that it might match the success of the 222, 430 or 427.
One of the highlights had to be MD Helicopters, although I couldn't get close because of the enormous crowd. With a mix of old worn out products revamped into a contemporary fantasy, it has to be one of the highlights. A new concept of the MD 600, not a particularly successful product at the best of times, was unveiled by some kind of sex robot that tottered out from the back shop. Now, this technology was really impressive and may be the way forward for MD, because their other business doesn't seem to be. Later they demonstrated the robot walking around the show floor attracting great attention and admiring looks. Once they figure out the aesthetics, this could be a huge success.
After a couple of nights of hearty drunkenness and hearing what everyone was actually up to, the reality set in. 2017 was going to suck! Nothing new had happened and nothing was going to change. Enormous numbers of used helicopters are for sale and new helicopter production was being slashed. Leasing companies were trying to push the positives of their inventory moving, while the volume of surplus equipment they have is simply astonishing. Numerous companies were either for sale, being taken over, in bankruptcy, or potentially looking at it as a way to dump huge debt and parked helicopters. Cheap money is disappearing and the only way to sell in that market is to adjust the economics to make the price work, ie: discounting the price of new and used helicopters as well as services. A few service providers did actually have some very exciting new products available and were selling them, as well as a couple of upstart operators announced some pretty exciting news. If you want to feel the overall sentiment, just read the Press Releases that came out on the second and third days. These apparently were written by the staff on-site and did not involve the marketing teams and qualify as some of the worst written and boring releases of all time were pumped out by whatever semi-literate personnel where on-site, at the behest of bloated, hungover, panicking senior executives, in poor fitting, cheap suits. As normal, there is a mass of rebranded companies and it's extremely difficult to determine who anyone is unless you see someone you know, and then you assume they must have changed jobs, only to find they are actually working for the same company just under a different name. There are some really big companies that suffer from this problem.
So the future seems to be real time HUMS and Internet, Drones, and sex robots. For most people in the helicopter industry, it will just mean business as usual. And remember, never speak when you are standing next to an LG TV at the show!
Next year, it's Vegas. Louisville is apparently off the list forever.