The new Helitech?
For the rotorcraft enthusiast it had everything – a picturesque and historical airfield, dozens of helicopters and gyrocopters, three exhibition halls (of sorts) and even a flying version of the downhill slalom.
The only thing missing from the first Heli UK Expo staged at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire was the actual punters.
Attracted by the headline figures – including more than 75 exhibitors from across the helicopter industry – and the promise of a tailored conference, we attended the opening day of the two day event and certainly didn’t have to contend with the queues or pressing crowds of other air shows.
On the face of it there appears to be a hole in the calendar that could be filled by just such a helicopter event aimed at the general aviation community.
When Reed Exhibitions decided to focus on the exhibitor dollar and move the Helitech event from Duxford and its Imperial War Museum to the cold interior of ExCel in central London – in an attempt to be a European version of Heli-Expo – many complained that the move had effectively killed off what had made the event magical (Yes that means you Ozzie). Being able to fly your helicopter in for the day, see friends from around the country and look at the various types on sale was the attraction for many pilots.
While Helitech still provides a means for the helicopter OEMs and suppliers to carry out demonstration flights for prospective customers, in becoming more business-to-business in focus there is no doubt that it has moved beyond being simply a nice day out for the pilot and enthusiast.
Heli UK Expo has stepped nicely into the breach, but has seemingly forgotten to tell anyone about it. The opening session of the conference was optimistically delayed by ten minutes in the hope that a rush of visitors would bolster the ten to 12 hardy souls in attendance.
Those that did attend were able to wander around and chat to people at will but almost everyone we spoke to – including the chairman of the British Helicopter Society – said it was only luck they had attended at all, having stumbled across the website or after a last-minute tip-off from someone in the know.
One company that did enjoy success at the show was Heli Charter – the UK representatives of Bell Helicopter – that displayed the mock-up of the new Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, picking up four firm orders for the $1,075,000 machine before lunch-time for its troubles.
But most of the other exhibitors simply stood around, hopefully looking at the stray passer-by, and chatting forlornly amongst themselves.
The Helicopter Challenge, which kicked off after lunch, did provide some welcome distraction – especially the commentator’s attempts to make flying up and down a straight course without spilling a bucket of water sound like the final race of the Formula One World Championship.
Perhaps in 20 years’ time we will be able to brag that we were part of the tiny minority of the UK helicopter community that actually attended the inaugural event of the long-running and hugely popular Heli UK Expo. But the organisers may have to move beyond their ‘build it and they will come’ attitude to marketing for that to happen.