Blogs / technology

Is sequestration killing aerospace and defense trade shows?

I'm starting to see a trend, and it isn't looking good for military trade shows that depend heavily on attendance from military personnel in this brave, new, post-sequestration world.

We started sensing a dropoff in military attendance at last January's AFCEA West military electronics show in San Diego. Exhibitors and attendees were pointing out the noticeable lack of uniforms on a generally listless exhibit floor.

Then came the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) winter show last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There weren't enough Army helicopters and combat vehicles involved to warrant an outside static display, as had been the practice at that show for a long time. Attendance at that show also was light.

Now things seem like they're starting to snowball. This month officials of the Institute of Navigation (ION) in Manassas, Va., announced they're cancelling the organization's Joint Navigation Conference (JNC) that had been scheduled for June in Orlando, Fla.

Among the reasons for the ION show cancellation are sequestration-caused curtailment of travel for many active-duty and civilian military employees, prospects, possible furloughs for federal employees, and anticipated cuts in the U.S. defense budget, ION officials say.

Sequestration refers to automatic across-the-board cuts of nearly half a trillion dollars from the defense budget over the next 10 years. This is above and beyond anticipated defense cuts that would have taken place over the next several years even without sequestration.

" ... due to the DOD’s recent policies detailing actions to be taken to prepare for drastic budget cuts, the curtailment of travel, fallout from a scandal with GSA conferences this past year, the current sequestration, and possible furloughs for federal employees, it is no longer possible for ION to ensure the JNC will be able to maintain a high quality technical program and sufficient networking opportunities that makes the JNC so valuable to DOD/DHS employees and their supporting organizations," ION officials said in an announcement this month.

The organization still is planning for an ION show in 2014 in Orlando ... for the time being.

With sequestration, military personnel and employees often are prohibited from incurring the expenses of attending and traveling to trade shows until further notice. Employees are told they may attend, but they not only must pay their own expenses, but also must take vacation days or other personal leave time to do so.

How many federal employees are going to do that?

The next big test will be the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Expo next month in Washington. With the prohibition on travel expenses, and the requirement to take vacation to attend, I'm betting attendance there will be much lighter than usual.

No telling how sequestration-caused budget cuts will influence other future shows, such as the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) this summer in Washington, or the AUSA annual show this fall.

These are tough days if you're involved with the military, but perhaps even tougher days if you're involved in military trade shows.