The Future of MRO: Impressions From David Bentley's First Post-COVID Trade Show

January 26, 2022

The Future of MRO: Impressions From my First Post-COVID Trade Show

Headshot of David Bentley  By David Bentley, Divisional Vice President and Business Manager at AMETEK MRO  

Wow, what a tough, unprecedented couple of years we have faced. The aerospace industry and particularly the MRO, took quite a hit in the commercial arena, with military, freighters, and general aviation providing some consistent relief throughout. Manufacturers, ISPs, Brokers, and MROs all felt the pain as travel from European and US airports was down ~60%. Still, according to Aviation Week, the US has seen a faster recovery than was expected and certainly faster than the rest of the world. We are now seeing supply chain disruptions, analyst reports of super inflation, and the new Omicron variant, but we will address those as they come along, as we are a resilient bunch of MRO-ers. 

2020 and much of 2021 were the years of practically no face-to-face interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, companies experimented with virtual trade shows and increased Zoom meetings to bridge the gap, but ultimately the wish for normalcy was growing both in our personal and professional lives. Trade shows remained on schedule towards the end of 2021 and AMETEK MRO was proud to be an exhibitor at one of the most significant MRO events of the year: Aviation Week’s MRO Europe 2021.

Throughout my 20-year career in Aerospace, I’ve attended hundreds of networking events, but there was something different about my first MRO show since the beginning of the world-changing Coronavirus pandemic.

Reflecting on my time at MRO Europe and looking back on how the trip played out, it was frustrating, different, extraordinary, simply therapeutic, and worth all the hassles that modern travel and personal interaction now have to offer. The most obvious change was the element of COVID protocols. We are dealing with the necessary constant wearing of masks in airports and on the plane, proof of vaccinations or negative test results before, after, and during travel, and different rules/forms for entry for each country. Everyone is learning to adapt and understand what we need to do to meet with our valuable customers.

Another noticeable change was the reduced number of exhibitors. The MRO industry was hit hard during the pandemic. Some companies spared the cost of trade show booths and giveaways and opted to walk the floor instead. Other companies choose not to attend due to safety concerns based on the spread of COVID in their region or the availability of vaccinations.

Yet while so much has changed, there were still many elements that remained the same. Coming together in an MRO setting often feels like a family reunion within the Aerospace industry. This was especially the case in 2021 after spending nearly two years connecting with our customers over phone calls, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Virtual Tradeshows, etc. Some people wore masks, and instead of shaking hands, many opted for the COVID fist bump, while others preferred the COVID air fist bump instead. It may have been a different greeting than we are used to, but that was OK. What mattered was that we were meeting face-to-face with people that we had not seen in a long time, and that was great.

We even had a full schedule of appointments. Both of our AMETEK MRO sales teams from Europe and North America had a whole book of appointments with their respective customers and potential new ones. After all, isn’t that what the MRO show is all about; meeting with old and new customers, meeting old and new people, and helping to solve our customers’ most complex problems?

I left MRO Europe 2021 feeling a renewed sense of camaraderie within MRO. Each conversation at the trade show started with how the pandemic had hit their company. US domestic air traffic was down 42%, 30% of the fleets were parked, and 11% of the fleet would be retired by the end of 2021. “Did you have layoffs or furloughs, or both?” “Have you seen the freighters and general aviation sustained throughout?” “How did military work help you?” Those conversations ignited a shared sense of hope for the future, looking forward to the time when air traffic returns to average volumes. Together, we shared the same wish for all the people we know and value within this incredible industry.

I’m optimistic for the future of MRO and look forward to a post-pandemic recovery. Most analysts are still saying that the “acute effects” of the pandemic will have been eroded by the end of 2024. The pandemic brought many changes to our daily work. It shined a light on the shared items that brought us together and even challenged us to think differently about our businesses.

For example, our Midwest teams (Drake AirB&S Aircraft, and Southern Aeroparts) have used this to reflect on our strategy and solutions, including additional heat exchanger capabilities in the OEM sector and military equivalents. As we enter 2022, I hope that the pandemic surrenders and trade shows will grow in attendance – both in exhibitors and visitors.

Look for us at MRO Americas 2022 Booth 5206 or contact us to learn about our growing heat exchanger capabilities.

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