Farnborough: bizav to take backseat to military, airlines

 - October 8, 2007, 11:14 AM

Paradoxically, business aviation will have both a lower and a higher profile at this year’s Farnborough Air Show, to be held July 22 to 28 in the UK. Lower, because several executive aircraft manufacturers have opted to give the event a miss this time around. Higher, because, for the first time ever, the UK airport will not be closed to corporate traffic for the duration of the show.

At press time, Raytheon Aircraft, Boeing Business Jets and Cessna had all confirmed their absence from the Farnborough show. Several other corporate aircraft builders were also absent from the provisional exhibitors list for the sold-out show, including MD Helicopters and Bell Helicopters–although AIN was still awaiting definitive confirmation of these firms’ status.

Raytheon, Cessna and Boeing Business Jets were as one in citing the timing of the European Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (EBACE)–held late last month in Geneva–as the main reason for absenting themselves from one of the world’s top two international airshows (the other being the Paris show, held in odd-numbered years). These firms’ top managements have decided to focus their marketing efforts on the dedicated business aviation show staged less than two months before Farnborough, rather than compete for attention amid the throngs of airliner heavy metal and combat airplanes.

Last year, eyebrows were raised by the close and competitive proximity of the new EBACE event (held in late April) to the Paris Air Show (held in June). At the time, Bombardier Business Aircraft reluctantly took the decision to attend Paris but not EBACE. This year, it will be at both EBACE and Farnborough in strength, with the Global Express, Challenger 604 and Learjets 45 and 60 all committed to the exhibit roster.

Also featured at press time on the provisional (and apparently incomplete) aircraft display list for Farnborough 2002 were the Dassault Falcon 2000 and 900EX, Embraer Legacy and Piaggio P.180 Avanti. Fairchild Dornier was also on the exhibitors list, although in view of the fact that it remains under bankruptcy protection, its actual participation in the show must be viewed as questionable.

Allowing aircraft to operate in and out of Farnborough during the show (outside each afternoon’s two-and-a-half-hour flying display between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) should make the event a shop window for TAG Aviation’s plans to develop the historic airfield as a dedicated business aviation gateway. In previous years, corporate and private traffic has been completely barred for the duration of the show, with TAG and its predecessor FBOs being obliged to operate a satellite operation from the nearby Odiham Royal Air Force base. TAG is spending almost $110 million on the first phase of its Farnborough development.

Change in the Air
To keep Farnborough open, the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), which organizes the air show, agreed to TAG’s request to have flying-display aircraft relocated to the new 870,000-sq-ft apron being built on the north side of the site. Previously, these aircraft have been on static display along the main runway, before being taxied out for the flying display–a process that effectively kept the airport closed all day. This year, visitors will be bussed over to view the flying display aircraft, and it remains to be seen how well the exhibitors (SBAC’s customers) accept this change.

On the face of it, flying into Farnborough could be an attractive alternative to ground routes into the show. Heightened post-September 11 security concerns have led to even tighter access rules, including a complete ban on all but VVIP cars on the show site during trade and public days. A park-and-ride system will operate from the Queen’s Parade site, which is around three-quarters of a mile from the main gate. However, Farnborough will not be able to take an unlimited number of corporate and private aircraft, so slots will be assigned strictly by prior permission.

Security concerns apart, Farnborough 2002 will once again be a major date on the aerospace and defense industry calendar. Following what are essentially regional air shows at Dubai in November and Singapore’s Asian Aerospace in February, this will be the first global event since September 11. And as such, it will be an important indicator of the extent to which the industry has weathered this storm.

In view of the marked downturn in the air transport sector, it seems inconceivable that this year’s Farnborough show will match the phenomenal $52 billion tally of contracts announced or signed on site at the 2000 event. At press time, this year’s exhibitor count stood at 1,094, compared with the 2000 total of just over 1,200. However, the average space taken by each exhibitor has increased and the show remains fully booked, with a substantial waiting list.

Farnborough 2002 is open to trade visitors only from July 22 through 26 and to the public on July 27 and 28. Opening hours on all days are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. More information about the show is available from the SBAC Web site (www.farnborough.com).

Once again, AIN will be publishing two of its award-winning on-site issues at this year’s Farnborough show. The Opening Day edition will appear on July 22, followed by the Midshow/World edition on July 25. News will also be available through the AIN Web site (www.ainonline.com).

Companies wishing to submit news and information for editorial consideration are invited to contact Charles Alcock, editor of international show issues, as soon as possible via the following coordinates: AIN Europe Bureau, 8 Stephendale Road, Farnham, Surrey GU9 9QP, UK; Telephone +44 1252 727758; fax +44 1252 718696; or e-mail CAlcockAIN@aol.com.