Words & Images by Ian Sheppard

AERO Friedrichshafen has become Europe’s most important General Aviation show by a long way. It may not have the flying displays, huge static display and fly-in enjoyed by visitors to AirVenture Oshkosh, held in July each year, but it has 8 huge hangar-like halls with conference areas and seminar rooms, so there’s never a dull moment. It’s difficult to do justice to the show in under three days.

GAAC was based on the GA Buyer Europe stand thanks to Astrid Ayling and her team at AvBuyer.com. The stand was busy all day and turned into a lively bar in the evenings! Ian Sheppard, GAAC Communications Adviser, was also representing Aviation Week Network / Business and Commercial Aviation (BCA) magazine, and its sister company AC-U-KWIK / AirportData.com for which Ian’s day job is as a Senior Researcher.

The show started with a Media Day on Tuesday 18th April and the main show days were 19th to 22nd, the latter being a pack-up day really. Friday 19th was also the Careers Day when many youngsters managed to get to the show despite a train strike.

Just walking around talking to people was very valuable; taking in the latest electric propulsion and airframe innovations, and walking around the Static Display – everything from Cirrus SR-22Ts and various Textron jets, TBM turboprop and even a Gulfstream G500. The show is clearly on the up and encompasses Business Aviation too — some large Exhibition Stands from the likes of Cirrus, aircraft dealer The 88K, Pipistrel, Garmin (great for seeing and trying a variety of cockpit avionics mock-ups), you couldn’t miss IAOPA Europe – and hundred of smaller booths. A total of 680 exhibitors from 35 countries, according to Show Director, Tobias Bretzel.

A few flew in to Friedrichshafen Airport for the show, despite quite a bit of rain – which unlike many airshows has little affect as it’s mainly inside. Many small aircraft from prototypes to vintage are in the halls, and getting food and drink is easy too (including in the central Courtyard which usually also has someone trying to inflate a Hot Air Balloon) – it’s an ideal event for meeting people and ‘networking’, and learning about new technology in particular. One focus of ‘AERO’ in recent years has been sustainability with the e-flight-expo Hall and Sustainability Trail being the key feature of the show in 2022 and 2023, a great come-back after Covid and visitor numbers did not disappoint.

It’s one of the best organised shows you’ll have the pleasure to visit, easy website and booking, good communication, easy to navigate with show guide and App. It may not be that easy to get to – many visitors fly to Zurich or a German city such as Munich and then either take public transport or hire a car – but it’s definitely worth the effort, and if the weather is good you get the back-drop of the Swiss Alps on the other side of Lake Constance.

Some hold evening events too, some off site – Growing association PPL/IR Europe held a members’ meeting and dinner in a hotel near the Lake, for example.

One of the main reasons for GAAC/AC-U-KWIK being at AERO was to attend the ‘SET-IMC’ one-Day Conference on Friday, 21st April. This was organised by Emerald Media with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, GAMA, with lead sponsor being Pratt & Whitney Canada, the company that produces the market-leading PT-6 turboprop which powers many Single-Engine Turboprop aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna Caravan.

It turns out that Commercial SET-IMC (Instrument Met Conditions) operations have not taken off as expected in Europe, and speakers explained that the regulatory system introduced in 2017 makes it difficult to be profitable with such operations. SET aircraft can be operated privately but when it comes to operating them commercially (mainly cargo, like FedEx has been doing all over the USA for 30 years, or passenger charter), having to designate emergency landing sites all along the route can create an inefficient routing – let alone the difficulty of replanning at short notice due to ATC-imposed route changes.

EASA, which introduced the regulation allowing SET-IMC in the EU in 2017, has created a new Working Group and done some research – although the European Business Aviation Association was clearly unaware of these developments and stressed the need for industry involvement. EASA said it was already planning to bring industry representatives in, however.

At the same time as SET-IMC, a Hydrogen Conference was running at the other end of the show site. this promising fuel has many challenges (as covered in a recent article in GA Buyer magazine).

One word of warning for non-German speakers is that some of the seminars and most of the magazines being handed out, or in bins, are in German. But mostly English-speakers have no problem and English is the main language heard in conversations on stands – despite visitors from all over Europe and beyond!

Finally, worth a mention is the Zeppelin factory and museum and the chance to go up in an Airship! And also the launch of the AERO Media Awards, the first holding of which will take place at the 2024 show on the evening of the Media Day, 16th April. Media Awards founder Peter Bradfield is pictured below/centre with Tobias Bretzel, Show Director, and Marino Boric of Aeronauticmedia.de following the AERO Media Awards launch press conference.

Next year’s show will be the 30th Anniversary event, and will be held 17-20 April 2024 at the same venue, Messe Friedrichshafen.


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