Airline industry readies for take-off as Farnborough Airport set for post-Covid comeback

Up to 80,000 manufacturers, scientists and industry leaders from across the globe are due to attend the fair

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When the organisers of the Farnborough International Airshow knuckled down to plan their 2022 post-Covid-19 comeback they were pleasantly surprised by a new trend among exhibitors: demand for more space to showcase their latest technologies to buyers, investors and decision makers.

The enthusiasm and shift away from small-scale requests and requirements put forward by companies at the fair before the pandemic hints at an industry-wide eagerness to expand and break into new spheres in the post-pandemic climate. One of the results is a new 800-seat theatre on the venue site.

Key players in the aerospace, defence, security and space industries are gearing up for Farnborough International Airshow 2022, which is tipped to draw up to 80,000 people to the small town in Hampshire, south-east England, from July 18-22. About 1,000 exhibitors from across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia have signed up to showcase their products and services, and organisers expect the figure to increase with last-minute additions.

Seventy per cent of exhibiting firms hail from overseas, even if Russian companies will not this year appear among the lines of stalls following a ban announced earlier this year.

Airbus, Boeing, Boom Supersonic, Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce and GE Aviation will be among the companies drawing attention to their latest technologies.

The trade exhibition will take place under unique circumstances, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and amid the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. The coronavirus crisis forced Farnborough to be called off in 2020, and the Paris Airshow, which is held on alternate years, was cancelled in 2021.

Now, with industry well on the road to recovery, Farnborough International chief executive Gareth Rogers said the show will serve as the largest platform for key figures to hold crucial conversations about what the future holds for their sector, as well as a chance to promote their latest technologies. Trade pacts, investment deals and joint ventures will be struck in the halls of the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre where representatives from over 60 governments will mingle with business owners, investors, military delegates and innovators.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing great excitement,” Mr Rogers said. “It’s the first opportunity for industry to come back together [in Europe] for three years.”

“I don’t think you’ll see any real tangible difference to what you’ve seen at airshows [pre-Covid],” he added. “In terms of visitor numbers, again we’re expecting some of the visitor numbers in what we’ve had in previous shows, so that 70,000-80,000 marker across the week in terms of people visiting.

“To me the big headline is the players that you’d expect to see are at the same levels.”

Spectators shield their eyes against the sun at Farnborough Airshow in 1959. Getty Images

The line-up of speakers includes Warren East, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Charles Woodburn of BAE Systems, Guillaume Faury of Airbus, and Mireille Goyer, founder of Women in Aviation. The readiness among top influencers across the aerospace, defence, security and space industries to put themselves forward to speak is testament to the enthusiasm among companies to work for the betterment of their sectors, not just their own companies, Mr Rogers said.

Guests will be invited to attend talks in the newly-built multi-tier theatre and those wishing to pursue careers in the industries represented at the show will be able to scan opportunities on a jobs board. The week-long event will also include a fly and display show which will see the most advanced aircraft take to the skies over Farnborough.

Aerospace in focus

Kevin Craven, chief executive of the Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space Group (ADS) - the trade organisation representing those industries in the UK - said an important goal is to promote the show as UK asset. “If the government wants Global Britain then you don’t get a better opportunity to demonstrate that than at Farnborough,” he said.

As the aerospace industry spanning Britain and farther afield stands to play a greater role in the global fight to tackle climate change, Farnborough offers a golden opportunity for traders to bang heads and find solutions to issues affecting the sector.

Mr Craven said there is a need for the UK government to think ahead and invest in technology which will be vital to help the country meets its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Given that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will be a bridging element to reaching that goal, now is a good time to act.

“The small bets that you place now as the UK government will have a massive effect further on down the line and that is definitely more so than ever the sort of regional competitive requirement that’s going to happen," Mr Craven said. "So there are things the government can do.

“To enable the quantities that we would require in Britain the government needs to get the legislation in place this year, really. Contracts for difference and regulations around it, we need these things in place in order to get the infrastructure built to supply the sustainable fuels that will be required to bridge the technology.”

Aerotron, a Cambridge-based company which uses carbon fibre and glass fibre to make parts for civilian and military helicopters as well as components of missiles, will be among the hundreds of aerospace names cropping up in the exhibition hall. Neil Hillier, sales manager of the family-run firm, hopes the business will benefit from the exposure offered by the airshow as it looks to expand in the near future.

“I have been going to airshows for 20 years and I am quite happy that this is going to be the first one post-Covid,” he told The National. “I think we have all gone through a very challenging time during the pandemic … and now there’s a return to the world.

“For us, we’re going to have a delegation from a US company that we could provide parts to. They’re going to come and visit us at our stand.”

Mr Hillier said like others in the industry Aerotron has in recent months experienced delays in product deliveries as the global economy reopens from lockdowns and the war in Ukraine continues. But he stressed the firm has “a full order book” and is seeing an appetite for business among customers.

Strengthening defence ties between Britain and the Middle East

Farnborough will open doors for increased trade between firms in the UK and the Middle East, organisers say, bringing mutual benefits and a strengthening of ties. A delegation from the UAE will be among the groups flying in from Gulf nations to attend the show.

“Traditionally, the Farnborough Airshow over the last 20-30 years has focused primarily on western Europe and the US in terms of its prime markets,” Mr Craven told The National. “The world has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. One of our key markets is the Middle East. It’s an absolute major area for us to focus on in terms of business for us but also to understand what they have to say, to understand what they’re trying to achieve. They are a major global player in the way that they weren’t 20 years ago. It is a truly global show and the Middle East is a massive part of it.”

Having recently returned from a trip to the Middle East as part of a British delegation aimed at increasing defence trade, Mr Craven said “we’ve seen a huge amount of traffic between the two zones and it’s great to see the UK government leaning in on it”.

Organisers at Farnborough have seen a spike in interest in all defence aspects of the show as the war in Ukraine continues to dominate geopolitical discussions.

“I expect that there will be a surge in terms of demand, restocking, change in style of the demand as well in terms of adapting to the new tactics and logistics requirements that we’ve seen in Ukraine,” Mr Craven said. “And then longer term I think you’re going to see not just European defence budgets but other global defence budgets are going to tick up. We saw at the Saudi World Defence Show people already talking about that.”

British armed police officers patrol among US military aircraft at the Farnborough International Airshow. Reuters

What's on the agenda?

Farnborough will feature a “Space Zone” packed with some of the industry’s leading innovators and an “Aerospace Global Forum”, which will bring together finance, governments, climate experts, start-ups, manufacturers and their supply chains in a bid to drive action in tackling the climate crisis.

The “Airline Leaders’ Summit” will focus on the aviation industry’s challenges and road to recovery while the “Research and Development Zone” will be geared towards opening up conversations between universities, industry leaders and up-and-coming engineers and scientists.

The week will culminate with the “Pioneers of Tomorrow” day on Friday which focuses on the next generation of workers to meet the growing sectors’ demands. It will be open to students, apprentices, graduates and young professionals and will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (Steam).

Updated: July 01, 2022, 6:15 PM