As recently as 2008, when I attended my first Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), IFE manufacturers and connectivity solutions providers were only just beginning to consider the show a serious place to do business, and were establishing a presence in the pointy end of Hall B6.
On the other side of the show in Hall B4, which was less than halfway full and lacking pitifully in foot-traffic, a tiny handful of inflight service product suppliers (mostly from within Germany) could also be found. At the time, those inflight service product companies didn’t seem overly enthused about the show’s potential for their businesses, telling me then that the airline buyers they traditionally spoke to weren’t there. The show was, at that time, still considered by many to be all about “nuts and bolts” and was not a primary destination for companies outside of the interior hardware business.
In an aggressive 2011 move to expand the event, AIX organizers Reed Exhibitions acquired the ITCA European travel catering exhibition from the International Travel Catering Association and change came rapidly, so too did the inflight product buyers. Just three years later, in 2014, the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo filled up four halls of the Hamburg Messe and hosted over 200 exhibiting companies, more than 60 of them taking a booth in April for the first time ever.
Yet catering is not the only direction into which the massive show is spreading. The increasing strength of its IFE hardware leg has spurred the growth of a new foot: content services. A quick search of the word “content” (as in digital media content for IFE systems) on the AIX Hamburg website returns a result of 13 companies, about 10 of which are actually in the content sector. That may not seem like such an impressive number yet, but it is one that is growing.
Richard Barsby is the managing director of Skyline IFE, a content service provider (CSP) supplier of movies, audio and TV channels as well as special productions like safety and training videos destination programs and more to international airlines. This April, he decided to take a chance with a stand in Hall B6.1 – a tented hall specially erected (due to a total sell-out of traditional floor space) between halls B6 and B7.
“With IFE hardware growing as it is, and because this is such a huge show with so many airline buyers walking around, I felt that it would be good to be here as an exhibitor,” Barsby explained. “The growth of the presence of CSPs at AIX, I think, is totally due to the size of the show. It’s all consolidating into one place. It was only a matter of time before CSPs and content providers started understanding that this is the place to be.”
Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see just how big the content section of the Hamburg AIX event becomes. Arguably, even more interesting to see will be what transpires several thousand miles away in North America. There, the industry’s premiere annual trade show and conference for major players in the IFEC and content world is still the APEX Expo, organized by the not-for-profit Airline Passenger Experience Association. That conference and trade show, along with its partner show IFSA (the International Flight Services Association, also a not-for-profit), was held last week in Anaheim, California. The annual APEX show attracts all the major IFE hardware suppliers, connectivity solutions firms, CSPs and major film studios, while IFSA “caters” to the needs of airline catering and inflight product procurement executives.
As AIX Hamburg and its sister show WTCE Hamburg continue to grow with zeal, Reed is simultaneously pushing to develop the North American counterparts of both events. AIX and WTCE Americas will take place in mid-October in Seattle, competing quite directly with the APEX/IFSA tandem. However, on this new industry frontier, Reed will not be able to simply buy up the competition.
“The whole mission for the APEX organization (as well as IFSA) is entirely different than what you would get from a for-profit entity like Reed,” said Russ Lemieux, executive director at APEX. “So when it comes to something like absorption, there really is no way to absorb APEX under the Reed brand legally. We’re a separate legal corporation under the not-for profit laws of California, so we can’t be acquired by Reed. We have no interest in that, by the way, but still, it is not apples to apples like the situation with ITCA.”
According to Lemieux, all metrics are headed north for the APEX Association. Trade show attendance has been on the rise for the last four years and membership is increasing on the back of the organization’s agenda of self-leadership, educational workshops, industry advocacy and recognition of innovation. IFSA doesn’t appear to be struggling either. Lemieux also reveals that between 40 and 60 percent of new member vendors joining the APEX association are not from the traditional IFE niche that the group once served specifically. They are now beginning to come increasingly from a wider range of areas related to services or comfort and ambiance. Airbus, for example, saved up some substantial news announcements for this year’s APEX Expo, revealing it will offer a new overhead pivot bin for its A320s, and that Delta will be the launch customer.
“The organizations (APEX and AIX) have two separate missions. That’s perfectly fine. They clearly have a niche with the Hamburg event that is very valued by the industry,” says Lemieux. “We have a very strong presence with what we do. Our members tell us, because we ask them on a regular basis how are we doing, that they like the value they’re getting. Our organization is growing.”
(Photo above by Isaac Alexander, aka @jetcitystar)