Analysis and summary of the 2012 Farnborough Air Show on 9-15 July, including the Futures Day.
With the trade stands now empty and aerospace executives heading home, what were the key themes from this year’s Farnborough Air Show? Let’s take a look.
Civil sales race
First off, as predicted, Boeing romped home, beating rival Airbus with some $37bn of sales – with its MAX receiving endorsement from United and key leasing companies. But for a company that in recent years has hogged the civil sales race at air shows, Airbus did not let Boeing have it all its own way, with some $16.9bn worth of sales. In particular the A350-1000 became the comeback kid of the show, with an order from Cathay Pacific that has revived its fortunes.
Elsewhere, Bombardier and ATR scored more sales, but the surprise order outside the main duopoly was from Mitsubishi’s MRJ, with 100 aircraft for SkyWest. Languishing at Farnborough was Embraer.
Finally after last year’s Ryanair/COMAC tie-up over the C919, this time it was the turn of BA and Iberia parent IAG to express interest in the new Chinese narrowbody. So is this interest real? Could BA one day fly jets saying made in China? Or are western airlines now using the C919 as a tool to obtain better deals from the big two? Whichever it is, it sets up a new dynamic in the civil aircraft sector.
All told, the show did some $72bn of trade, beating expectations that with the Eurozone crisis and worries about China’s growth stalling – it would be a washout. In fact the show was up on 2010, which only had $42bn of business, and was only $16bn short of the peak year in 2008. However, the halls felt quiet and semi-deserted and the organisers admitted trade visitors were down by 9% as a result of difficult market conditions.
So was it, as one commentator said ‘a bust’ compared to other air shows? Probably not. Here’s why. Firstly the giant mega-deals of recent years have created an expectation (fuelled by over-enthusiastic PR types and the press) that each airshow will now outdo the last one in terms of orders. This is clearly unsustainable and aircraft manufacturers are now sitting on huge production backlogs and need to reduce them. Airbus for example, will create a fourth A320 plant in the US, while Boeing is boosting production 30% to help reduce its backlog and deliver aircraft to customers. It may be then, that this Farnborough is the ‘new norm’ after the sales frenzy of recent years. Another factor, overlooked by many observers, is that a lower fuel price has given airlines a breathing space in acquiring new, more efficient aircraft. In short, civil aerospace is now very much in production and delivery mode, rather than racking up mammoth sales.
Defence subdued but positive
While civil aerospace dominated Farnborough, there was a stark contrast with the defence side of the coin – with budget worries on both sides of the Atlantic. Big themes included UAVs and ISR, as well as maritime patrol aircraft and the merging of defence with security. However, behind the scenes there is cause for optimism, at least for the UK defence sector. First, is that the announcement that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had ‘balanced the books’ means that the way has been cleared for defence procurement process to return and get back on track. It won’t mean giant orders by any means and will look far different than before, but the new certainty will inform decisions by industry in the run up to 2015’s SDSR.
Secondly insiders believe that in terms of promoting defence exports the government has finally ‘got it’ and realised that if it is to compete successfully in international markets, UK forces must be using the equipment and any upgrades must be funded. The wake-up call for this obviously was the Indian MMRCA fighter contest and Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement over AESA radar, Meteor missile integration with Eurofighter is proof of this – giving Typhoon upgrades an official blessing. Cynics might argue that it is a little too late, with India and Japan already lost – but there is no doubt that Typhoon enhancements are now on much firmer ground.
‘New space’ is in
This year saw the first ‘space tourism’ appearance by Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo mockup. What was notable here is that in Virgin’s announcement of LauncherOne, is that it had already lined up customers from ‘new space’ commercial entrepreneurs such as Planetary Resources. The UK’s SSTL and Reaction Engines too were also high profile at the show. Slick, innovative and very sexy, the ‘new space’ sector driven by private enterprise is being helped further by renewed public interest in all things science and tech (or as one speaker put it: ‘the Brian Cox effect’). Expect Farnborough (and Le Bourget) to become more of ‘Air + Space’ shows in the future as this sector grows and expands.
Flying the flag
Blame it on the Olympics, blame it on the Diamond Jubilee, but this Farnborough a distinct ‘British’ feel – especially since it enjoyed a level of Government support that veteran showgoers said that they couldn’t recall. Indeed one insider said that the last time the UK aerospace industry had this level of Government interest, was in the ‘Golden Years’ of Farnborough in the 1950s. The show scored a major coup when the PM opened it on Monday, and the rest of the week, one couldn’t move without bumping into a government minister. Of course, the fact that the UK’s financial sector is currently in crisis, may have something to do with this, but the insiders were pleased to note that Government showed real interest in aerospace. As a high-tech, manufacturing industry with skilled jobs and able to compete internationally, aerospace has now the hopes of the UK government on it to help drive the country’s growth. The pressure, then, is on.
Sowing the seeds for the future
Tied in with this, was the recognition that if the UK is to maintain its position in the global aerospace industry, it needs to encourage and inspire new talent to join it. This is not just a UK problem, with the US and Europe facing the retirement of older engineers and workers who created the technological aerospace marvels we have today. This Farnborough saw this drive to inspire the next generation go into high gear. Airbus for example, had a ‘flashmob’ drum event to highlight its recruitment efforts and is aiming to recruit 4,000 this year. Meanwhile Raytheon were spreading the word about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) with a tweet-up for around 35 of their followers. But the main event on Friday was Futures Day, where 7,500 young people got free tickets to see what the aerospace industry could offer them. The organisers plan to expand this even further – and hope to invite 20,000 for the 2014 show. During the day there were ‘spy trails’ aviation trails, heritage trails, a chance to discuss aviation sustainability with Airbus experts and a BBC presenter, as well as meet an astronaut and get hands-on with a Mars rover.
The Innovation Zone at Farnborough was packed with young people checking out technology from companies such as GKN, MBDA and Thales. Two aircraft from Royal Aeronautical Society/Boeing Schools Build-A-Plane project were also on display all week, to highlight the new Falcon Initiative to spread the benefits of SBAP even further. VIP visitors to SBAP included Universities and Science Minister David Willetts and Boeing 737 MAX Senior Pilot Christine Walsh. Watch a quick interview with Sir Roger Bone of Boeing UK about the latest progress in Build-a-Plane.
Boeing meanwhile launched (in conjunction with the Royal Aeronautical Society) a new one-year ‘Boeing Aviation Studies Certificate’ for 14-18 year olds. Essentially an add-on aerospace GCSE – this will give the chance for young people in secondary education to learn not only about aerospace from a technical point of view, but also the supporting aspects like economic, marketing and the environment.
The day also saw the International Rocketry Challenge held where students from three countries battled to see which country had the best young rocket scientists, with an exciting blast-off. The final winners were France, followed by the US, with the UK coming in third. Congratulations all!
Usually most manufacturers want to stretch their aircraft rather than shrink them- but spotted in the model shop was this new variant of the 747, hitherto previously unseen. The 747SSSSSSP?
Look out for a full report of the air show in a forthcoming Aerospace International magazine.