Farnborough Report: Reinvigorated show was a hot event

 - September 13, 2006, 9:13 AM

The Farnborough International airshow appears to have rediscovered its vim and vigor, refreshed by a new format and site facilities. As this year’s show drew to a close, indications were that the event had drawn record attendance on its trade and public days.

Two years ago, the 2004 edition of the biennial show had closed with a mood of uncertainty about its future direction and structure. The decision by the Society of British Aerospace Companies to shift the management of the show to a new wholly owned subsidiary called Farnborough International Ltd (FIL) has made the organization more nimble and responsive to its clients and audience.

The show’s opening day was shortened to run between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to allow for a staggered start to the event. On the four full trade days, the flying display was shortened to just two hours and did not start until 2:30 p.m.

One unexpected setback that organizers and exhibitors did have to contend with was a freak heat wave that hit Britain during the week of the show, sending temperatures soaring to 96 degrees F in a country where buildings are designed to retain heat. With air conditioning units cranked to full power, the site’s electricity supply could not cope, resulting in repeated and prolonged power outages in the chalets and exhibit halls.

FIL apologized to exhibitors and visitors, admitting that it had underestimated the power requirements for such an eventuality.

The uncomfortable weather conditions did nothing to detract from one of the most fulsome arrays of aircraft ever seen at a Farnborough show. It was a marked improvement from 2004, when both static and flying displays were somewhat anemic and lacking in novelty.

The show was dominated by three products that are neatly symbolic of the current state of world aerospace and defense markets.

The Airbus A380 is the pinnacle of current airliner technology, and it continues to impress despite the manufacturer’s recent setbacks on delivery delays. The program is a symbol of what can be achieved through international partnerships and at the same time a reminder of how products can be tarnished by muddled management.

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor made a great impression on an international audience that has for the most part not seen the hybrid fly. It too is the fruit of a troubled program, but without doubt signals the future for rapid and flexible force deployment.

Then there was RSK MiG’s stunning MiG-29OVT fighter, which put on a mind-bogglingly agile performance thanks to the thrust vector control nozzles of its engines and the skill and courage of its Russian pilots. MiG provided arguably the most stunning flying displays seen on the airshow circuit in at least a decade. Now it has to convince export markets that its qualities have tactical and strategic value in the post-dogfight age.

FI 2006 drew record numbers: 1,480 exhibitors (versus 1,360 in 2004); 133 aircraft on display; 36 countries represented (including newcomers Greece, Spain and Mexico); 77 official defense delegations from 43 countries; and 40 official commercial delegations from 15 countries.

EADS and Airbus Face Critics and Skeptics
Airbus and its main shareholder, EADS, came to the Farnborough show under severe pressure to restore corporate credibility, which has taken a battering in recent weeks over delivery delays for the new A380 super-large airliner and misjudgment of market expectations for the new A350. Its response was to briefly but candidly come clean about the extent of the electrical harness and wiring headaches on the A380.

Then came the news that customers, prospective clients and rival Boeing had been waiting for: confirmation that Airbus will offer a revamped and enlarged A350 series and that board approval for definitive program launch will be sought in early October.

The A350 XWB (standing for extra-widebody) has been devised both to catch up with the runaway success of Boeing’s 787 twinjet and to counter the existing 777-200ER and -300ER. The series will consist of three variants, the 270-passenger A350 XWB-800, the 314-seat -900 and the 350-seat -1000.

As things stand, the 787 will be ready to enter service four years before the new A350, so Airbus has to be able to convince operators that it has sharpened its pencil enough to offer technology that is truly worth waiting for (essentially, one of the arguments that Boeing used when the 787 seemed a distant alternative to the A380). New-generation materials are a big part of the Airbus plan, in which composites will account for 45 percent of the aircraft and aluminum lithium for 17 percent.

The airplane’s carbon-fiber wing will see a three-degree increase in sweep to 33 degrees to allow for a speed of Mach 0.85. The A350 powerplant is expected to achieve a 2-percent fuel consumption improvement over the 787 and 5-percent lower maintenance costs.

Rolls-Royce is provisionally offering a range of thrust from 75,000 pounds to 95,000 pounds in what would be the sixth variant of the Trent series. Its rivals, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, do not yet have a clear answer as to how they might jointly or separately offer the alternative powerplant that Airbus has in mind.

Provisional performance specifications show that the A350-800 would have a full-payload range of 8,500 nm, compared with the 787-8’s 7,900-nm range carrying 242 passengers. The larger A350-900 would fly 314 passengers 8,500 nm–34 more passengers at the same range as the 787-9 and superior to the 777-200ER, which can carry 301 passengers 7,700 nm.

Airbus emphasized that the lighter A350 will trump the 777 on operating costs. The A350-900, for example, is projected to have seat costs that will be as much as 25 percent lower than the 777-200ER’s.

In the first aircraft order from Libya since trade sanctions were lifted, the country’s Afriqiyah Airways signed a contract for six A320s, three A319s and three A330-200s. The deal also includes options for five A319s and three A330-200s.

Spain’s Grupo Marsans signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for the purchase of 12 A330-200s and 10 more on option. If firmed up, the deal would see the aircraft delivered between 2008 and 2009 to replace the operator’s fleet of aging 747-200s.

New Indian low-fare carrier GoAir placed an order for 10 CFM-powered A320s and options for another 10. Deliveries will start early next year.

Aegean Airlines of Greece signed a contract for a further three A320s. Deliveries are to take place between January and April 2009.

Malaysia’s AirAsia placed an order for 40 more A320s, and took options on another 30. The CIT leasing group ordered five A330-200 widebodies and four A320s.
Finally, Hungary’s Wizz Air ordered 20 A320s to augment its all-Airbus fleet.
Boeing came to the FI2006 show with a new market forecast predicting that airlines will spend $2.6 trillion on new aircraft over the next 20 years. On the show’s second day the company started to provide evidence for this optimistic prognosis by revealing orders worth $7.9 billion.

Emirates Airline led the spending charge with a contract for 10 General Electric-powered 747-8F freighters, valued at $3.3 billion for delivery during 2010 to 2014. Kuwait’s LoadAir Cargo ordered a pair of 747-400ER freighters at a price of $494 million for delivery in 2009.

Boeing also disclosed the identities of Indonesia’s Lion Air and lessor Aviation Capital Group as the customers for previously booked 737 orders. Lion Air has now converted to firm orders options held on 30 copies of the 737-900ER at a price of approximately $2.2 billion and slated for service entry during 2010 to 2012. In a $987 million deal, ACG has ordered sixteen 737-800s.

Pegasus Aviation Finance ordered six 787-8s. The deal brings to 30 the number of customers for the 787 series.

CAE announced a new training alliance to address the shortage of commercial pilots. The CAE Global Academy is a network of flight-training organizations that offer pilot candidates training for a commercial pilot certificate and preparation to earn type ratings. So far, CAE has agreements with the International Airline Training Academy based in Tucson, Ariz.; HM Aerospace in Langkawi, Malaysia; and Portugal’s Academia Aeronautica de Evora. It is now in talks with other training organizations around the world.

Helicopters
Bell Helicopter
and Israel’s Urban Aeronautics unveiled an impressive full-scale mockup of an innovative vertical-lift aircraft called the X-Hawk, which could create a new class of civil and military powered-lift vehicles. The model showed a design that could carry up to a dozen people, including the pilot, in a cabin located between two horizontal rotors.

The X-Hawk is about the same size as a Bell 212 and has a target mtow of 6,700 pounds. Endurance with maximum fuel of 1,300 pounds would be about two hours with reserve, maximum range would be 330 nm and operating radius 140 nm.
Wind-tunnel tests of an X-Hawk scale model confirmed a max speed as high as 140 knots. The price of the aircraft is expected to compare with a product like Eurocopter’s EC 145 at around $6 million.

AgustaWestland announced that Italy’s civil protection agency had ordered an AW139 helicopter. The medium twin will be used as an airborne command post for disaster- relief efforts. The Mexican government has also ordered five A119 Koalas and three A109S Grands for similar roles.

Regional Aircraft
Sukhoi Civil Aircraft renamed the 95-seat Russian Regional Jet the Superjet 100. The Russian company has recently formalized its strategic partnership with Italy’s Finmeccanica group, whose Alenia Aeronautica division is set to acquire a quarter share in Sukhoi for $100 million.

The partners are now expected to select a new location for the Superjet 100 program’s technical and sales offices. Plans are also under discussion for Avions de Transport Regional, the French-Italian regional turboprop maker in which Alenia is a 50-percent partner, to provide product support and sales impetus for the Superjet.

Meanwhile, Powerjet–the alliance between France’s Snecma and Russia’s NPO Saturn–made the first run of the Superjet’s SaM146 engine a week before the Farnborough show. The 14,000- to 17,500-pound-thrust engine will soon begin further tests to take it to full power. At the airshow, Italy’s Avio signed an agreement to confirm its 10-percent stake in the program.

Embraer unveiled plans to offer its E170/190 series of regional airliners in new high-capacity configurations. No structural changes or new testing will be required to provide the following options: the E170 (80 seats versus the current limit of 78); the E175 (88, up from 86); the E190 (114, up from 108); and the E195 (122, up from 118).

The Brazilian airframer also announced that flight data from E190s has shown a 3-percent lower fuel burn than the company had previously predicted. The benefit results from manufacturing enhancements– implemented in the assembly line since the first serial production aircraft–that reduced drag. Based on 3,000 flight hours per year and a fuel price of $2 per gallon, the reduced fuel burn will save an E190 operator about $1 million per aircraft over a 20-year period.

Embraer is now providing its aircraft health analysis and diagnosis system for its regional airliner clients. The Web-based platform allows operators to continuously monitor an aircraft’s health while it is flying and sends messages to both crew and maintenance staff to alert them to problems and trends.

On the second day of Farnborough International, Embraer’s E195 received certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency. This clears the way for this month’s first delivery to UK operator Flybe. Embraer has also started the process to get the E190 approved to operate into the steep-approach London City Airport.

Avions de Transport Regional received an airshow order for three ATR 72-500 turboprop twins from Finland’s Finncomm Airlines. This marked the firming of three options placed along with eight firm orders and five other options at the Paris Air Show last year. The value of the latest contract is $54 million and the deliveries will be made in 2008 and 2009.

ATR also unveiled its new Elegance cabin interior in an Air Madagascar ATR 42-500 that was on display at Farnborough International. The interior includes new lighting and an in-flight entertainment video system. It will also be available on the ATR 72-500.

Talks have now begun between ATR, Thales, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins to upgrade the flight deck of ATR’s line. These might result in the introduction of equipment to reduce pilot workload, such as electronic flight bags, and will also include a multi-purpose computer to control maintenance costs.

Thales displayed its new Top Series i-4500 in-flight entertainment system at the show. The company claims this will be the first such system developed for regional airliners, with space saved by storing the server at the rear of the cabin instead of beneath passenger seats. The complete system weighs 400 pounds. Passengers will be able to play on-demand videos and music on 4-inch by 3-inch seat-back touch-screen displays.

Engineers at ATR and Pratt & Whitney Canada are also looking into changing the settings for the PW127M engines to improve factors such as hot-and-high performance and allowing maintenance on demand. Meanwhile, P&WC has been given a $60 million, five-year contract to support the PW127 engines on Kingfisher Airlines’ 35-strong fleet of ATR 72-500s.

Bombardier signed an agreement with Shenyang Aircraft that will see the Chinese company build fuselage sections for the Q400 twin turboprop. The first components will be delivered to Canada in 2008.

In a new market forecast, Bombardier predicts the need for some 11,000 new 20- to 149-passenger aircraft over the next 20 years and at a collective value of $370 billion. Of this total, 1,100 will be in the 20- to 59-seat class, 4,100 in the 60- to 99-seat class and 5,800 in the largest bracket.

Australia’s Regional Express signed a deal with Saab Aircraft to lease another Saab 340B twin turboprop for a five-year term and to extend four existing leases for the same type.

Japan’s Mitsubishi displayed a model of its planned new-generation regional jet. The Japanese government is providing launch aid for the program, but the company is now seeking partners to be able to launch it by the end of next year.

The 90-seat MJ-90 will be the first of three twinjets from Mitsubishi, with 70- and 96-seat versions also planned. The would-be airframer claims that both the MJ-90 and MJ-70 will have a range of 1,950 nm and a cruise speed of Mach 0.78.

Mitsubishi’s plans may be the reason for Bombardier’s recent decision to switch fuselage manufacturing work for the Q-Series twin turboprops from the Japanese firm to its own factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Business Aircraft
Bombardier announced six new business aircraft sales at Farnborough 2006. Swiss-owned charter firm VistaJet has ordered three Challenger 605s and taken options on two more. The company, which has its operational base in Salzburg, Austria, is preparing to join Bombardier’s Skyjet International block charter program.

Bulgaria’s Nove Holding has become the European launch customer for the Learjet 60XR, with a single order placed during the show. Another unnamed client in the Czech Republic has also bought a 60XR that will be managed by ABS Jets of Prague.

Then the government of Pakistan’s Sindh province signed for a Learjet 45XR. This will be delivered at the end of this year and will be based at Karachi’s Qaid-e-Azam International Airport for transporting officials and providing logistics support.

The Canadian manufacturer announced the selection of London-area TAG Farnborough Engineering and Gold Air International as the latest additions to a European service center network that now runs to 11 facilities. TAG is a new line maintenance center for Challengers and Global Expresses, and Biggin Hill-based Gold Air will cover the Learjet series.

TAG Aviation and the Versace fashion house announced a new partnership to create money-no-object custom interiors for large-cabin business jets. They revealed their first concept drawings for the so-called “Versace jets.” Like an original work of art, each cabin design will be numbered and signed to assure customers of its absolute exclusivity to their aircraft.

Pricing will definitely be in the “if you need to ask you can’t afford it” range. TAG president Mansour Ojjeh said he expects the Versace interiors to appeal to wealthy individuals rather than corporate aircraft owners. “The idea is to get away from the cookie-cutter airplane interiors that are now popular with many manufacturers.”

Embraer announced that it has made its first Middle East sales of the new Phenoms. Kuwaiti VIP charter firm United Aviation has signed for a Phenom 100,
a Phenom 300 and a Legacy 600. The Legacy is supposed to be delivered in October, with the Phenoms to follow between 2008 and 2010.

The Phenom 100 has just completed its wind-tunnel tests, which have confirmed the very light jet’s specifications, according to Embraer. The campaign used three separate wind tunnels in the U.S., Brazil and Russia.

During Farnborough International, Embraer disclosed the firm-order backlog for its growing lineup of business aircraft, which now also includes the Lineage 1000 large jet. The total backlog is now valued at $1.25 billion and includes firm orders for 235 Phenom 100s and 300s.

The manufacturer expects to deliver between 25 and 30 Legacy 600s per year this year and next. Though the Lineage 1000 has yet to achieve a sale since it
was launched in May, two copies of the new model are expected to be delivered during the second half of 2008, and three to four more during 2009.

Embraer also announced the opening of a new executive jet maintenance center at its Ogma subsidiary near Lisbon in Portugal. The 16,600-sq-ft facility will be able to service two Legacy 600s and a Lineage 1000, or up to eight Phenoms, at the same time.

Airbus won an order from an undisclosed European customer for its Airbus Corporate Jetliner, taking this year’s sales tally for the line of VIP-configured airliners to 14. This year’s sales to date consist of nine ACJs, four A318 Elites and an A330-200. The manufacturer has almost outstripped the 15 sales it achieved last year.

Cessna made a return to the Farnborough airshow after a six-year absence. In recent years it has focused its marketing efforts on the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition held annually during May in Geneva, but decided that burgeoning demand for corporate jets made it worthwhile to occupy Farnborough’s new Business Aircraft Park. The U.S. manufacturer exhibited a Citation XLS, a CJ3 and a Caravan.

Engines
French group Snecma and Avio of Italy signed an agreement to jointly develop the core demonstrator for the new SM-X business jet engine. The demonstrator is supposed to be the foundation for a new family of turbofans with a thrust range of 8,000 to 12,000 pounds. The engines are intended for various long-range business jet applications.

Snecma expects to be able to announce the first application for SM-X at October’s NBAA Convention in Orlando and at that time will announce the permanent name for the engine program. The SM-X will feature a centrifugal compressor developed by its Safran group sister company Turbomeca. This is promised to deliver 10-percent better fuel burn and 20- to 40-percent improvements in climb and cruise thrust.

Pratt & Whitney has been chosen by India’s Kingfisher Airlines to power its new Airbus A330 fleet with its PW4168A turbofans. The contract calls for 10 engines and
an option for 10 more. The operator has also become the first taker for P&W’s new Advantage 70 upgrade kits, which are intended to boost the performance of the engine and improve reliability.

Pratt & Whitney Canada announced that it has just achieved the first run of the PW617F engine that will power Embraer’s Phenom 100 very light jet. The new turbofan has already met its full takeoff thrust of 1,695 pounds.