Farnborough International 2010: Report

 - August 3, 2010, 10:54 AM

It was an airshow planned and prepared for during the worst of the past two years of economic downturn and yet Farnborough International 2010 ended up delivering gladly received evidence that a recovery is gathering momentum in the aerospace industry.

Total announced orders were close to the $40 billion mark by the time this report was filed, one-and-a-half days before the show ended. Organizers were hopeful that the remaining trading hours might well yield enough additional airshow dollars to get beyond the $46 billion tally that would make 2010 the second highest yield in the show’s long history.

This year’s Farnborough gathering (July 19 to 25) was also full of fascination, both in terms of the novel and diverse array of aircraft on display and in view of the complex and vexed issues being played out in the background. A prime example of this was the speculation about the future of the Airbus Military A400M airlifter, which is back under budgetary pressure now that the UK and other European governments have to identify significant new savings to balance the debt-laden public accounts.

Other points of military interest on the Farnborough 2010 agenda included the Chengdu/PAC JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter. This was the first time the aircraft had been seen outside China and Pakistan, where it is being jointly developed.
However, the undisputed star of the show was Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which made its global debut on the stage of Farnborough’s historic airfield. In view of the program’s own troubled history, it was unsurprising that the all-new widebody was able to spend only the first two days at the show, before the third prototype had to high-tail it back to Seattle to rejoin the flight-test program.

Just days before the 787’s momentous arrival, Boeing had been compelled to confess the prospect of a seventh program delay that could see the vital first delivery to launch customer All Nippon Airways pushed back from the end of this year into the early months of next year–taking the total delay to at least 32 months past the initial May 2008 target. Naturally, the assembled press and industry anticipated elaboration on the exact source and status of the latest glitch. But precious little detail was provided in a show briefing that was short on content and long on optimistic pronouncements that under the circumstances seemed rose-tinted.

Nonetheless, there was real excitement at the Dreamliner’s presence and there is little doubt that it will have served to bolster belief in the program’s overall credibility. Certainly, for Boeing and the many 787 suppliers and partners exhibiting at Farnborough it was a rightly proud moment to reflect on their contributions to this genuine new-generation airliner.

Airline Orders Roll In
Boeing and rival Airbus shared in a bumper crop of orders announced during Farnborough week. In their wake came powerplant makers Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, GE Aviation, CFM International and International Aero Engines, all of which reaped a hearty share of the bounty from the resulting engine selections.
Russian airframers Superjet International and Irkut both enjoyed significant new sales success for their Superjet 100 and MC-21 airliners, respectively.

Bermuda-based Pearl Aircraft leasing group signed for 30 Superjets and took options on 15 more in a deal worth around $900 million at list prices. Kartika Airlines finalized a contract for up to 30 more Superjets, and the Indonesian carrier also signed a customer support agreement with PowerJet, maker of the Superjet’s just-certified SaM146 turbofans.

At Farnborough Irkut displayed a mock-up for the MC-21, showing a partial interior with business- and economy-class seating and the cockpit. The manufacturer claims that the cabin’s maximum internal diameter is almost 144 inches–wider than both the 139-inch A320 and the 136-inch 737.

Irkut started the show by signing a memorandum of understanding with VEB Leasing (a subsidiary of Russian bank Vnesheconombank) for up to 30 of its MC-21s (a firm order for 15 and options on another 15). The airframer also secured a firm order for 50 more of the twinjets–split evenly between the 150-seat MC-21-200 and the 181-seat MC-21-300.

Meanwhile, Irkut’s parent group, United Aircraft (UAC), announced that it is working on a merger with Ukraine’s Antonov in a process that could take 12 to 18 months to complete. UAC insists that the 75- to 100-seat Superjet 100 (already part of the UAC empire through its Sukhoi Civil Aircraft company) does not clash in the market with Antonov’s An-148 and An-158 regional jets, which are slightly smaller.

Bombardier came close to landing an important new contract for its C Series narrowbody, but Qatar Airways stalled on signing at the last moment after failing to reach final agreement on issues relating to the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney engines. Talks continued throughout the show, but as of press time no further announcement had been made.

The Canadian airframer’s regional aircraft business did receive a firm order for seven Q400 turboprops from Australian carrier Qantas. The deal is worth $218 million and the first aircraft are due for delivery in the first half of next year.
Avions de Transport Regional unveiled a new cabin design for its ATR 42/72-600 series of twin turboprops. The Armonia interior is the work of Italy’s Giugiaro Design, and showgoers were able to get the feel for it in a full-size mockup.

Embraer landed an encouraging new contract from UK low-cost carrier Flybe, which has committed to taking up to 140 of its E175 twinjets. The deal, worth up to $5 billion, starts with firm orders for 35 airplanes and extends to options on 65 and purchase rights on another 40.

The Brazilian airframer also received a letter of intent from U.S. regional carrier Republic Airlines for 24 E190s. If these are converted into firm orders the total value of the deal would be around $960 million and deliveries would begin in the middle of next year.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft showed a cabin mockup of its MRJ regional jet, highlighting claimed width and height advantages over competitors. As of press time, it had yet to close an anticipated deal with an undisclosed carrier to add to the contract it has with Japan’s All Nippon Airways (firm order for 15 and options on 10). Nor has it yet been able to firm up the letter of intent signed by the U.S. Trans States group for up to 100 MRJs.  

In the business jet segment, Piaggio parent company Mubadala Aerospace revealed that it does indeed have plans to enter the business jet market–the first official indication of such a strategy after more than a year of speculation surrounding its Italian subsidiary. Homaid Al Shemmari, executive director of Mubadala’s aerospace unit, said that the group wants to see the aircraft enter service in 2018. He said that the Abu Dhabi-based investment group will design, manufacture and support the new executive jet with some as yet unspecified role for Piaggio itself.

Mubadala’s aerospace ambitions don’t end here. Al Shemmari also told AIN that the group has clear plans to establish itself as a tier-one aerospace supplier. “We’re looking at a stake of up to 20 percent in the composites content of any new aircraft,” he said, referring to the planned new-generation, single-aisle airliners being conceived by Boeing and Airbus.

Dassault arrived in Farnborough with the ink barely dry on the U.S. and European type certificates for its Falcon 900LX. It is also about to get approval for the Falcon 2000LX to operate from London City Airport, with its steep approach and short runway.

Bombardier signed deals for six business aircraft. Qatar placed a $90 million order for two Global 5000s to add to its growing VIP operation, and, during the press conference to announce this, airline chief executive Akbar Al Baker spontaneously signaled his intention to add a third to be used for medevac services.

Executive charter operator VistaJet ordered four Global Express XRSs and a pair of Challenger 605s. These aircraft, which will take its fleet to 30, are due for delivery in 2011 and 2012 and will be used for expansion into West Africa, the Middle East and Russia.

Diamond Aircraft founder and CEO Christian Dries announced plans to develop an aerobatic, tandem-seat military trainer version of the D-Jet. It will have ejection seats and sell for less than $3 million, and might prove attractive as a low-cost option for some elements of the defense training market and so bolster the overall D-Jet business case. Diamond also demonstrated a version of its DA42 twin-engine light aircraft, which–with only minor modifications–had engines running on pure biofuel made from algae rather than their usual tipple, diesel.

In a similar market segment, Germany’s Grob Aircraft announced a partnership with Israel’s Elbit Systems to develop a new series of trainers called the G-120TP. This will consist of three versions with different seating options, and Elbit will provide a full glass-cockpit avionics suite.

AgustaWestland sprung a surprise by unveiling the new AW169 twin-engine helicopter on the opening day of the show. The 4.5-metric-ton aircraft will fill the slot between the GrandNew and the AW139. With seating for eight to 10 passengers, it will be aimed at commercial transportation, as well as government and parapublic roles such as law enforcement.

EADS came to Farnborough with a mockup of a new hybrid helicopter concept that it believes will deliver fuel savings of up to 50 percent. The design comes out of the European group’s Innovation Works team and uses a combination of diesel engines, generators, batteries and electric motors. The diesel engines drive electrical generators that charge the batteries, which power electric motors driving the helicopter’s main and tail rotors. The development team said that the technology will take another five to 10 years to mature.

Sikorsky announced it will use a new light helicopter simulator to demonstrate to customers the capabilities of the X2 flying technology demonstrator, which is now starting its final flight-test phase. The company also disclosed that it was to reveal a new electrically powered two-seat S-300C at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh late last month.

Engine Announcements
GE Aviation president and CEO David Joyce told a Farnborough press conference that the company does not see a viable business case to offer an alternative powerplant choice for the Airbus A350XWB. This is good news for Rolls-Royce, which currently offers the only available engine, the Trent 1000XWB, which has already sold more than 1,000 units.

Rolls-Royce also made its own headlines when head of strategic marketing Robert Nuttal asserted that “the numbers do not stack up” for plans to re-engine either the Airbus A320 or the Boeing 737. The company position is now that only all-new aircraft with all-new engines make business sense. For Rolls this means that it wants to focus its efforts on developing an open-rotor engine for the true next-generation single-aisle airliners, but its International Aero Engines partner Pratt & Whitney remains steadfastly committed to the rival geared turbofan technology.

Pratt & Whitney Canada sprung a surprise by launching an all-new turboprop engine for regional aircraft to replace the 1,800- to 5,000-shp PW100 series. It expects to run the core demonstrator in the second half of next year, drawing on technology developed for its Pratt & Whitney sibling’s new PW1000G geared turbofan. P&WC president John Saabas said that the new powerplant will be at least 10 percent more fuel efficient than the PW100 series.

Avionics Upgrades
Rockwell Collins announced the release of a software upgrade for the cabin management systems in the Bombardier Global Express XRS and Global 5000 that includes dozens of enhancements to the look and feel of the system. The software adds an icon-based menu co-developed by Teague, a U.S. industrial design firm, with additions including “At a Glance” and “Favorites.” New aircraft are now being delivered with the V7 software upgrade and operators of in-service Globals can receive it free of charge starting this fall, according to Bombardier.

Thales confirmed that it is advancing new-generation, so-called cockpit 3.0, avionics suites that would enable single-pilot operations for commercial aircraft. Other innovations would include interactive language selection for touch screens and localized or 3-D sound.