In September 2019, I was in Berlin for the annual ISTAT (International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading) Europe. Every year the organizers choose another European city for this event. This year it was the capital of Germany, at the Intercontinental Hotel.
It is probably the largest trade fair in aviation, which brings together over 2000 top managers of leasing companies and airlines, manufacturers, lawyers specializing in aviation, bankers, investors, and appraisers. It’s basically the crème de la crème of commercial aviation.
You must be a member of this association to participate (unless you are invited).
ISTAT EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) is a conference that lasts two full days (in addition to the first evening welcome reception), where everyone has meetings, old acquaintances reunite or new ones are made, back-to-back meetings are held without breaks. Lunches and dinners over the period of the event are particularly lucrative.
Aviation, although it is the second most regulated industry in the world, is extraordinarily selective; the number of people working in the commercial area is limited, and almost everyone knows everyone. That is why it is very important to keep your reputation intact, which is not easy at all because a lot of deals happen in a year, and a deal has between 15-20 steps (which include initial financing, final financing, physical technical evaluation of the asset or evaluation of the documentation – which if it is not complete, that engine becomes a pile of unused metal). Many risks can occur on a deal. Another thing that makes this industry unique is the fact that the companies that compete with you will become your customers or vice versa. So very often you will have a love-hate relationship.
The fact that, especially at the beginning of your career, you are travelling 50-75% of the time, it is quite easy to make friends with some people you have nothing in common with other than shared passion for aviation. The more you advance, the less you should be seen, I now travel only around 35% of the time.
Returning to ISTAT: here you find out which company has what asset to sell or lease, what they will have in the coming months, and how the market is expected to move. But the most important thing is that each lessor tries to organize meetings with the airlines—with the powerful ones—because they are the end user of the planes or engines. It’s not easy at all if you don’t know someone inside. If you manage to organize such a meeting on your own, it is due to hard work and keeping your word. Or it may help that one of your work friends (who is probably working at the competition) knows someone and introduces you “accidentally” to that airline, either when you run down the hall from one meeting to another or at the hotel bar (where everyone gathers before going to dinner).
Everything is very organized; after you register, you receive the list with all the participants. I prefer to choose my meetings both in order to attract new clients, and also to find out the opinion of other professionals about what they think will happen to the market. But by the time I get organized to write to the companies/people I want to see, most likely I already have 75% of the program reserved by various people who have had the time to write to me before (not the ideal situation). I also don’t accept a meeting because it wouldn’t bring me any advantage and the time is so limited (and expensive) that I don’t want to lose it.
So I arrived in Berlin on Monday afternoon, before the Welcome Reception. My original plan was to get to the airport in Schipol and do my nails there (they have a salon in each terminal and the manicurists are taught to finish very quickly, although the client is on the phone more than half the time). At these fairs you have to look impeccable, whether you are a woman or a man. But this time I didn’t succeed, so since I arrived at the hotel, I asked the receptionist to make me an appointment at the salon they recommended. I was not lucky to be the closest so I changed the location of my first meeting to be near the mall (1.5 km away from the hotel) where the second salon recommended by them was located. And because it’s my personal goal to take my 10,000 steps a day, I walked.
After this adventure, I changed for the Welcome reception and the dinner I had organized afterwards, together with Max (CEO of APOC) and a shop in Miami from which I had already bought an engine that I had sold to an Italian company. I knew that R and K had decided to leave the company they worked for and that they wanted to be on their own, and I wanted to be sure that we would have the first right of refusal for every customer they had. I took them to an elegant Italian restaurant, next to the hotel where I ate seafood and drank Amarone. At the end of the evening, the deal was sealed.
Usually I also go to after drinks but I knew that the next day I would have 30 meetings, drinks, dinner and drinks again (yes, aviation is an industry that drinks at the end of the day and we always talk about expensive products, champagne, wine, whiskey, gin). Strong companies compete to find the most luxurious locations; I chose to go to my room, work a little longer, watch a show and then go to bed.
The next few days I ran from meeting to meeting (I managed not to be late more than 15 minutes at one of them which is a personal record), I went to a reception held by a law firm (this kind of reception requires great stamina to stand, as there are no chairs, and to balance your glass of wine – water in this case, for me), dinner and a cocktail at the end of the evening at the hotel bar. My favorite cocktail is the Cosmopolitan and many aviation friends know this and give me messages to invite me to the hotel bar (where there are about 500 people at any time of the day or night, until closing) with a Cosmo waiting. There are few women in this field; that’s why we are spoiled in our so-called free time. Negotiations, on the other hand, are as tough for us as they are for any man.
During such a conference, most of the deals are made at the dinners or at the bar; there are negotiations on projects of millions or tens of millions of dollars so I cannot neglect these locations.
The second evening (and the last), I was invited by a Japanese leasing company (which has a turnover of $400 million) to a specific Berlin bar, eclectic but which I recommend. It’s called Monkey Bar. The clientele is a mix of young and very young, hipsters and business people. It’s an interesting way to end the evening after a very tiring day. With this company, I have been trying to do business together for some time, but they are looking for very new planes and we are in the second-hand market. The two guys I met for dinner and at the bar work with Tokyo for a pilot project with us. But when I say it works, it means it will take another two years to complete. Approvals for Japanese companies take a long time because they always do a very thorough analysis.
ISTAT EMEA has training and conferences from morning to evening, in the two days of the conference but, unfortunately, it was so crowded that I did not manage to reach even one.
Towards the end, I would like to share the feminine part of the term businesswoman. When I travel for work, I am quite well organized, I choose my day outfits (so many conference days, so many outfits) and evening outfits (for dinner and after dinner drinks). Most of the time I have at least four pairs of heeled shoes (I have to change them because I can’t wear a pair today, stand for twelve hours and wear the same one tomorrow). And I have at least two bags: a day bag, which fits my laptop, a diary, a Mont Blanc diamond pen (yes, all these details are very important if you are an executive and especially in aviation) and an evening one. I’m sure you’d be surprised to see how many men recognize a Chanel bag or a Hermes scarf.
Also, every time I travel, I have with me the day and night creams, the hair straightener, the blush, the eye shadow, the foundation, the make-up remover etc. Maybe I’ll write an article about all the cosmetics I carry with me on every trip.
On the plane, I wear my Nike pants (I have about six pairs), with Michael Kors sneakers and a shirt or a T-shirt. I always have a carry-on bag on wheels (in which I keep my laptop, diary, business cards, pajamas and outfit for the first day of the conference – a few times I happened to run out of luggage and have nothing to wear to meetings).
It was a successful conference, with three good meetings, about four that will have no future and the rest that will have a second phase.