Egypt's first international aviation exhibition gave the country a long-awaited chance to return to the region's pilot seat, but Amira Ibrahim
discovered serious planning flaws
Aviation specialists have generally been regarding the Avex 2005 Expo and Air Show that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh late February with an attitude of "better late than never". During his speech at the inauguration ceremony, Minister of Aviation Ahmed Shafiq observed that "Egypt is a pioneer in aviation throughout the Arab world, yet we are behind compared to many other Arab countries which have moved forward in organising such exhibitions and gained international fame." President Hosni Mubarak, accompanied by a number of cabinet members, attended the inauguration ceremony, where he toured the new upgrading projects at the Sharm El-Sheikh airport.
Shafiq expressed his satisfaction with the reaction from international aviation bodies to Egypt's new exposition. "We invited a large number of companies related to different aviation activities. Though we were late in organising the event, starting only three months ago, we received positive responses from a considerable number of companies," he commented.
Participants were offered special rates reaching a 50 per cent discount on EgyptAir routes all over the world. A special fare of LE299 was offered for round-trip flights from Cairo for both Egyptian and foreigners for the duration of the exhibition.
According to Shafiq, the exhibition set to be held every year will specialise in small passenger aircraft. "We believe it is better for this newly born exhibition not to compete with other big expositions that already exist in the region. At the same time, it provides a good opportunity to establish an annual event allocated for businesses different than that displayed at other exhibitions," he added.
The list of participants included 45 international and Egyptian companies involved in various aspects of aircraft assembly.
In addition, other participants took part in the exhibition in the fields of ground handling equipment, subcontracting, mechanical items and metal working, maintenance, product support and spare parts, transport services and airport equipment and services.
The exhibition consisted of four main sections, with booths set up both outdoors and indoors to display publications, print materials and product demonstration, while aircraft featuring technological innovations were parked near the runway.
Despite of the fact that Avex was just a modest start compared to events in other regional countries, it attracted giant aircraft manufacturers to participate. For three days, 22 passenger aircraft were displayed at Sharm El-Sheikh airport.
Boeing and Airbus, the providers of the national carrier fleet, participated in different ways. In addition to hiring a large space for its booth, which was mysteriously devoid of both publications and employees throughout the exhibition, Airbus brought its new AB310 aircraft to the show to compete with small jets displayed at the exhibition. Boeing's booth was alive with helpful staff and eye-catching demonstrations to promote its latest product, the Boeing Business Jet, but the aircraft was not shown at the exhibition.
"For many reasons that followed the 9/11 events, Boeing had to step back from the Middle East market and that worked in the favour of our competitor Airbus," Samir N Hanna, Boeing's international sales director told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Hanna insisted that Boeing was still running a strong second in the Arab region with major customers in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, in addition to EgyptAir. "We are here in Sharm El-Sheikh to tell everybody that we are serious about returning and want to regain our share in this market," Hanna added.
Two major manufacturers of small aircraft competed to sell EgyptAir their 50-seat aircraft. Aviation authorities looking to modernise the carrier's fleet have been involved in negotiations with the Canadian company Bombardier and the Brazilian Embraer over the past two years. To give live displays, company officials organised a number of round-trip flights aboard small jets to Aswan and Luxor for top officials and businessmen.
The aviation minister announced during the exhibition that the carrier will buy six new small aircraft to work on regional and domestic routes. "The purchase will be through AirCairo airline which is 51 per cent owned by EgyptAir," he explained. Shafiq did not specify any date for the deal or name which of the two companies had won the contract.
Military manufacturers from Czech, Ukraine and Egypt participated with training aircraft circling the skies over Sharm El- Sheikh airport. The Czech Aero Vodochody dazzled visitors with a professional air show carried out by its L159 B training and light combat aircraft. Egypt's Arab Organisation for Industrialisation also promoted its K8 training and light combat aircraft with a similar air show.
The event provided an excellent opportunity for aviation services companies to expand, encouraged by a governmental liberal atmosphere towards opening the sky and liberalising the air transport business.
Towards these ends, the Egyptian Petroleum Air Services (PAS) actively participated in the exhibition, promoting its services to isolated areas inside Egypt that are not covered by the national carrier. "The PAS fleet consists of five 50-seat de Havilland (R) Dash 7 and Dash 8 turboprops, 23 Bell helicopters and three 50-seat Bombardier Q300 aircraft," stated Hassan Rashid, PAS Chairman. "Our petroleum and tourism activity is steadily increasing. We fly from Cairo International Airport to a number of petroleum exploration sites within a 700km radius on behalf of 12 Egyptian and multinational companies. We also operate charter flights within Egypt and to surrounding countries on behalf of Egypt's tourism sector. Through contributing to such events, we seek to promote our services in the regional charter flights market," Rashid added.
The two main engine manufacturers that provide engines for the national carrier, Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney Canada took part in the exhibition, displaying the latest hi-tech engines. "We are happy to return to the Egyptian market," said Rolls Royce Regional Executive David Priestley to the Weekly. "For many years, we had not had any business with Egyptian aviation authorities. Recently we signed a $150 million contract with EgyptAir to provide engines for its new AB330 deal that consists of seven aircraft. We are here to show our interest in the Egyptian market, which we believe is promising in the near future," Priestley added.
Two international airport management companies, the German Fraport and the French Aeroports de Paris activated contacts and communications with other participants to the exhibition. The former has won the contract to manage Cairo International Airport while the latter was chosen to manage five main airports in Egypt.
Only two construction companies participated in the exhibition -- Turkey's TAV holding company, currently in charge of constructing Cairo Airport's new terminal, and the Saudi Bin Laden Group, building Sharm El-Sheikh's new terminal. Both terminals are due to be completed by 2007.
Other aviation-related activities were displayed in the exhibition through Egyptian companies affiliated to the Ministry of Aviation and the national carrier. This included Cairo International Airport, the Egyptian Airport Company and Aviation Information Technology and several EgyptAir-affiliated companies.
However, the exhibition had been subject to serious criticism. A problematic shortage of information about the participants, their nationalities and classification of work, the aircraft displayed, equipment, the number of visitors, surfaced early before the event and was not resolved. Tourists in Sharm El-Sheikh had difficulty obtaining information about the event as the only advertising was large banners at five-star hotels announcing merely the exhibition's duration and slogan.
The aviation minister also came under attack for contracting a relatively inexperienced company to organise the event and declining to invite international specialised organisers to bid for the exhibition's supervision.
Regional and European airlines were ignored, neither invited to take part nor to help promote the event, giving the exhibition a very local feel, with the absence of regional and foreign visitors except for the employees of international exhibitors.
Though the exhibitors shelled out a hefty $10,000 per square metre for rented spaces at Sharm El-Sheikh airport, Shafiq admitted that the ministry had made no profit out of the event, but rather had been forced to subsidise the exhibition.
Shafiq, an ex-air force commander, dropped his final bomb when he revealed a decision to allow the same company to organise next year's exposition. "They deserve a chance to achieve success. I am optimistic that next year it will be better," explained Shafiq.