Farnborough Airshow: Aerospace deals set to fly

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Farnborough Airshow: Aerospace deals set to fly

By Theo Leggett
Business correspondent, BBC News

  • Published2 days ago


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Red Arrows flypast during Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations on 2 June, 2022
Image caption,The Red Arrows will return to Farnborough this year

Well, it has been quite a while. But this week, a usually rather sleepy airfield in Hampshire will once again play host to the biggest names of the global aerospace and defence industry.

The Farnborough Airshow, being held for the first time in four years, is expected to feature some 1,200 exhibitors from 42 countries, and attract more than 80,000 visitors.

It will be noisy and colourful, with the Red Arrows, South Korea’s Black Eagles Display Team, an RAF Typhoon and a US Air Force F-35 all dropping by during the flying displays.

Since the last show in 2018, the Covid pandemic has had a major impact on commercial aviation, while the war in Ukraine has dramatically changed the outlook for the defence industry.

That means this year’s event offers an opportunity to gauge the mood of businesses, and assess how they are coping in a very different world.

Some things, though, have not changed.

The pressure to cut emissions and become less environmentally damaging is as strong as ever – and “sustainability” is likely to be one of the main buzzwords in the vast exhibition halls and plush chalets.

Confidence check

Under normal circumstances, Farnborough alternates with the Salon du Bourget in Paris as the most prestigious aerospace industry gathering of the year.

An F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter at the Bethpage Airshow over Jones Beach for Memorial Day Weekend. Taken on May 28, 2022, in Wantagh, New York .
Image caption,Flying displays will include a US Air Force F-35

It’s a place where executives in sharp suits mingle with military types in gold braid and dark glasses, in the shadow of billions of pounds worth of state-of-the art machinery.

Before Covid, it was used as an opportunity for showmanship, to boast of vast new orders. The airline sector was growing rapidly – and all forecasts suggested that would continue.

But the outbreak brought the good times to an end very abruptly. Airlines were hardly flying in many regions. Aircraft were grounded, and factories slowed.

Now a recovery is clearly under way, and those behind the show are convinced confidence is returning.

“The world has really not flown much for the past three years,” explains Kevin Craven, chief executive of the UK aerospace trade association ADS.

“So the proof that the industry has both used the time well and is absolutely looking forward to the future, I think is a really symbolic moment.”

Inevitably, there will be a focus on the two giants of the commercial sector, Airbus and Boeing. Of the two, the US manufacturer has had the most difficult time over the past few years.

A Boeing 737 MAX 10 airliner taxis at Boeing Field after its first flight on June 18, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.
Image caption,Boeing hopes its 737 Max 10 will help rehabilitate the Max brand, but it too faces problems

The company will be bringing its 737 Max 10 to the show. This is the newest, and largest, version of the 737 Max – a relative of the design that was involved in two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Boeing is hoping that the plane, a highly efficient long-range model, will allow it to compete with Airbus’ A321neo, and help in the rehabilitation of the Max brand.

But there are problems looming. It looks unlikely that the aircraft will be certified by regulators before the end of the year. If it is not, it will be subject to new safety rules governing cockpit alerts.

These would force Boeing to make changes to the flight deck, meaning that pilots coming from other variants of the 737 Max would need extra training, raising costs for airlines, and making the plane a potentially less attractive proposition.

The company has demanded a waiver from the new rules, and chief executive Dave Calhoun has warned if that doesn’t happen, there is a risk the programme could be cancelled.

As if that wasn’t enough, the aerospace giant has yet to resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner. These have been halted for more than a year due to a litany of production and quality control problems, though approval from regulators is expected soon.

All told, Boeing and Dave Calhoun really need a good show, with strong orders, to build confidence and appease disgruntled investors.

Airbus, meanwhile, is going into the show in upbeat mood.

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