RIAT Basks In Glory While Farnborough Plays Out To The Wider Trade Gallery

Coming straight off the back of the highly successful Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) held at RAF Fairford and having moved on to spend the past three days at Farnborough International, I am in no doubt as to why this great event in the trade show calendar should be regarded as the most successful aerospace industry trade show in the world.

Spending three days at each of the two events mentioned I now come back down to earth having met a great many friends and industry and military colleagues all of whom work so hard to make the defence and aerospace industry and the UK military as respected in the international community as it clearly is. RIAT is a class act unsurpassed anywhere in the world and one in which military and industry can network in a relaxed and relatively informal environment. As the single most important military air show event held in the UK it is of little surprise that RIAT should attract no less than forty-six air force chiefs from around the world not to mention senior management from virtually every major aerospace and defence prime in Europe and the US.

As the pre-eminent aerospace industry trade show Farnborough plays to a very much wider gallery made up of those engaged in the industry both small and large. Here too may be found press and media from all over the world learning, writing and broadcasting on what is going on in this vitally important industry. Long may that continue and let me once and for all dispel the myth that in the face of increasing numbers of international air and trade shows now being held around the world that Farnborough might struggle to survive in the years ahead. It won’t – it will thrive.

Each and every year Farnborough adapts to change and it always respects what industry wants and needs. While it is probably true to say that the three most important days of Farnborough International are now behind us that does not mean that we have seen an end to commercial aircraft order announcements for Boeing, Airbus and maybe others. I have little interest in who by the end of the show might have announced the least or most new orders but on this suffice to say that a raft of new orders and intentions announced by Boeing and Airbus do show that this industry is not just alive but in very rude health. Yes, there are engineering skills issues and worries whether the supply side can cope with the pressures being exerted on them to produce increasing amounts of engineered components. There may be a mix of other issues and problems too but overall the commercial aerospace industry is doing very well.

In terms of commercial aircraft announcements at Farnborough whilst orders for single aisle aircraft continue to dominate in terms of actual numbers the arrival of the new Airbus A350XWB at Farnborough for the first time has certainly aroused much interest. Airbus announcement of the proposed A330neo, an aircraft that will be powered by a more fuel efficient derivative (the Trent 7000) of the Rolls-Royce Trent engine, was welcomed and backed up by several announced order intentions.

Having previously announced a raft of orders for the Boeing 737 MAX there was confirmation by Hainan Airlines and Monarch for a total 80 jets of the type at the show. Qatar Airways confirmed in order form its previously announced intention to acquire 50 Boeing 777x jetliners together with a right to buy agreement for another 50 jets.

For Airbus additional orders for the A350XWB, plus the receipt of a great many new orders for the A320neo family of aircraft and the manner in which the A330neo proposal has been received should mean that the European company will leave Farnborough well satisfied.

With the ‘C’ Series aircraft order book standing at just 203 aircraft and with the aircraft hitting a stream of development problems and delays there has been little if any good news to report from Bombardier. The ‘C’ series aircraft which was designed to be a ‘competitor’ to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 family is struggling and along with it much of the future revenue hopes for the parent company. There has as far as I am aware been little if any comment this week at Farnborough in regard of the engine fire that grounded development test flights; and with the company flagging in terms of share performance, it seems that there may be further trouble ahead for the Canadian based company.

Another intended future 737/A320 competitor comes in the form of the China’s 158 seat C919 aircraft development of which the maiden flight is now expected to be in 2015. Much delayed and with over 400 aircraft on order it seems to me that deliveries that had been rescheduled to start in 2015 may also be in doubt. With a reported 258 orders on board another Chinese aircraft development, the ARJ21 regional passenger airliner, built by the same company with GE engines, is hoped to achieve its airworthiness certification by the end of 2014. However, given expressed doubts due to COMAC’s inexperience of going through a rigid airworthiness certification process doubts remain as to whether the US FAA will be prepared to recognise either aircraft. The understandable fear is that without FAA airworthiness approval COMAC’s potential to export C919 or ARJ21 is all but removed.

RIAT and Farnborough had both expected to be recipients of actual flight displays by the Lockheed Martin developed F-35 ‘Lightning 11’ Joint Strike Fighter aircraft but sadly and for well publicised reasons this was not to be. For Farnborough which is predominantly a trade show, apart from the two ‘public days’ this coming weekend, I suspect that while the lack of F-35 appearance in a limited flight display programme was disappointing it is not the end of the world. In reality during the five trade days of the show apart from the odd fast military jet aircraft and the superb Airbus A400M displays the vast majority of actual flight displays are performed by civil airliners such as the Boeing 787-9 ‘Dreamliner’, the Airbus A380. And A350XWB.

For RIAT the lack of appearance by the F-35 has somewhat more relevance in that there were so many air force chiefs, foreign delegations, MP’s and other officials plus those in industry that had placed much emphasis on seeing this great aircraft in the air for the first time. That the lack of F-35 appearance at either RIAT or Farnborough is disappointing cannot be denied and I suspect also that with so much expectation having been laid during previous weeks there is a degree of embarrassment too. But the US authorities involved including the Pentagon were absolutely right to conclude that the element of risk involved together with the massive logistics and tanker refuelling operation required to get the planned number of F-35’s over to the UK was too high, particularly in an aircraft development programme that is only 60% complete.

I am in no doubt at all that the F-35 JSF programme will be the ultimate success that everyone hopes and expects but we do have to remember that no aircraft development, civil or military, occurs without problems emerging. Years ago perhaps when the requirement for the kind of transparency demanded today didn’t exist aircraft manufacturers could move through a development programme without being in quite so much gaze from public and press. Times have changed and if a development programme hits snags today everyone will soon know. There is nothing wrong in that and a year from now I suspect we will see the F-35 flying in the skies around Fairford, though maybe not at Paris.

In a range of other excellent announcements to occur at Farnborough the UK government’s long delayed commitment to funding ‘Captor-E’ Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar integration for the Typhoon as part of a £1.1bn defence spending package is, along with the next stage announcement of the Defence Growth Partnership (DGP), the highlight of Farnborough International for me. AESA radar is already offered to export customers for a variety of competing military combat aircraft including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and F-16 Block 60, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F and EA-18G ‘Growler’, the Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen-E. That Typhoon will soon be able to have AESA radar replacing the existing ‘Captor-M’ mechanically scanned, multi-mode pulse Doppler system will make this very fine aircraft all the more exportable.

While the £1.1bn defence expenditure programme announced by the Prime Minister is not new money (I am assuming it is coming from the in excess of £3bn underspend on the allocated defence budget over the past three years) it is nonetheless welcome. The announcement included an intention to spend more on intelligence, surveillance equipment, cyber and on remotely piloted air systems. The £800m commitment to ISTAR (Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) is welcome although given that within this announcement overall there is also a reduction in physical ‘Sentinel’ aircraft capability and no new money yet for ‘Sentry’ capability upgrade or Multi Mission Aircraft (often referred to as Maritime Patrol Aircraft) capability, there is still a long way to go before the nation has filled the huge gaps left by a wholly inadequate and dangerous SDSR 2010.

I will come back to other announcements such as Defence Growth Partnership and separately, the Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) capability study agreements that was ‘signed’ by French and British governments at Farnborough this week at a later date. I welcome the Future Unmanned Combat Air System feasibility phase and the MOU signed with MBDA on the Scalp/Stormshadow programme.  Anglo/French co-operation may not be to everyone’s taste but in an age of austerity and when we have allowed defence to become less relevant in the eyes of our respective public means that co-operation of future capability has to be the way forward on defence.

While Farnborough still has a few more days to run, (I note that yet another big order for 70 A320neo planes has followed this morning) I can at least conclude that as the most important trade show event of 2014 Farnborough has done its job well in terms of acting as a showcase for the commercial aerospace industry. In terms of visibility of equipment on offer from companies all over the world, in terms of the substantial amount of technology available and the space that the show has to show off finished commercial aircraft, components, equipment and services Farnborough remains unsurpassed. Long may that continue!


CHW (London – 17th July 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710 779785

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