Farnborough Airshow opens after aviation industry's stormy years

Boeing and Airbus will declare their latest multi-billion-dollar jet orders at the five-day event

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Global aviation's Farnborough International Airshow opened on Monday, the first in four years after a Covid-enforced hiatus.

More than 80,000 visitors from 96 countries are expected to attend this week's five-day event, with aviation bosses aiming for a display of confidence after the devastation of the pandemic.

The show will this year focus on green themes of decarbonisation and sustainability, as many carriers seek to replace ageing fleets with modern, fuel-efficient aircraft that emit less carbon dioxide.

US titan Boeing and its European arch-rival Airbus will battle for supremacy as they declare their latest multi-billion-dollar jet orders.

Airbus and Boeing will also showcase their latest twin-aisle passenger aircraft, the A350-900 and the 777X.

It comes as the sector has been aided by a modest recovery in air traffic and with Ukraine boosting defence budgets.

The show, which is held south west of London, comes as weather forecasters warn of scorching record temperatures in England. Delegates travelled in crowded trains and shuttle buses to reach the show, problems which were exacerbated by climate protesters holding a mock funeral for the Earth on the main road outside.

Farnborough visitors will be thrilled by air displays by Britain's Red Arrows and South Korea's Black Eagles, as well as the US-made F-35 stealth fighter.

Outgoing UK prime minister Boris Johnson visited on Monday morning in one of his final public appearances as prime minister, where he is meeting some of the 1,500 exhibitors.

In a speech, Mr Johnson spoke about taking a trip in a Typhoon aircraft last week, taking off like a “vertical firecracker” and experiencing barrel rolls over the English Channel.

He will later meet British astronaut Tim Peake and Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency.

He will also view an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

US flying taxi firm Joby Aviation Inc. has applied for certification in the UK, backing up a previous statement that Britain is a vital market.

The start-up will apply for foreign validation of its US certification with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, according to a statement.

Joby is developing a four-passenger electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft with a maximum range of 150 miles, It has said it sees such aircraft connecting cities such as Bristol and Cambridge with London, as well as providing links between UK regions.

In focusing on the UK, Joby faces a homegrown competitor in Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace, which is also working on a four seater with the same top speed. Vertical has received more than 1,300 orders and said on Friday it had secured a commitment to pre-delivery payments and delivery slots from American Airlines Group Inc.

Farnborough Airshow through the years - in pictures

Back in the skies

Deals worth a total of £161 billion ($192bn) were agreed the last time Farnborough was held, organisers said.

"This is the first major global airshow for three years since Paris 2019," Farnborough chief executive Gareth Rogers said.

The biennial Farnborough show was cancelled in 2020 as the Covid crisis grounded aircraft and ravaged the sector.

Global air traffic is gradually recovering and in May reached more than two-thirds of its pre-pandemic level, according to estimates from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

That recovery has however faced headwinds from rocketing inflation fuelled by historically high energy prices and higher wages, while staff shortages constrain airports and spark flight cancellations.

Meanwhile, Russia's war on Ukraine has sparked an upsurge in defence spending as nations seek to bolster armed forces.

"Anecdotally, we are certainly seeing a greater interest in the defence element of the show," said Mr Rogers.

Defence agreements are, however, not announced at Farnborough, unlike commercial civil aviation deals.

Supply issues causing delays

Demand for jets peaked in 2016 but remained buoyant until the pandemic affected air transport. Now, travel is rebounding, passengers face long lines and some jets are back in demand.

But the big-ticket orders that dominated past events are rarer as airlines repair balance sheets weakened by Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Aerospace firms came under pressure from customers at the start of the show to stabilise fractured supply chains.

Airbus expects delays in engine supplies that have been holding back aircraft deliveries to peak at mid-year, chief executive Guillaume Faury was reported on Monday as saying.

Airbus has been forced to build some narrow-body A320neo-family jets without engines to keep assembly lines running. This mirrors a smaller scale disruption seen in 2017 when Airbus was forced to build dozens of engine-less airframes nicknamed "gliders," while waiting for power plants to arrive.

"It’s going to peak probably mid-year and then we think we'll get more engines in the second half," Faury told FlightGlobal in an interview released at the opening of the Farnborough Airshow.

But the head of the body representing global airlines, IATA director general Willie Walsh, said manufacturers had wasted chances to shore up their assembly lines.

"Airlines are frustrated by the delays around delivery of aircraft; they're frustrated around issues like access to spare parts," Mr Walsh told Reuters.

"I think (manufacturers) should have taken better advantage of the lull in demand over the past two years to have been better prepared for this recovery."

Boeing hopes for clear skies

Boeing hopes the airshow will mark an end to several turbulent years following 737 MAX crashes and 787 manufacturing problems.

Boeing plans to show off several planes including the MAX 10, the latest version of its flagship model in the vital medium-haul segment, and hopes to announce a range of new orders.

The MAX 10 offers Boeing the opportunity to show off the latest version of the aircraft and seek to recover from the deadly and costly crashes of an earlier model.

The crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 led to the aircraft being grounded for 20 months. Airlines cancelled hundreds of orders and demanded compensation.

"The most difficult of our crises is being managed effectively," Boeing's chief executive Dave Calhoun said in an interview with The Financial Times on Monday. "It's not done and that's the MAX. But we're still returning aeroplanes to service for our customers."

Since the 737 MAX was recertified and took to the skies again, Boeing has sought to make amends with US authorities, acknowledging its partial responsibility for the crashes and forking out over several billion dollars to settle probes.

"On the MAX, they've turned the corner," said Michel Merluzeau, from aviation consultancy AIR.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 12:32 PM
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