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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Farnborough 2012: Flying Through Europe’s Woes

This year’s Farnborough International Airshow could be one of the quietest for military and civil rotorcraft sales, given the uncertain economic situation in Europe. But there are still a few bright spots.

By Andrew Drwiega

Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey flying over Westminster Abbey and the Thames river in London, UK. The aircraft is from USMC Squadron VMX-22 based in New River, N.C. Bell-Boeing

This year’s Farnborough International Airshow could potentially be one of the quietest for military rotorcraft sales given the hugely uncertain economic situation in Europe. The civil market too is under pressure with corporate profits down, pressure on governments to cut back across all departments (including parapublic) and less liquidity in the private sector. Perhaps oil and gas and other energy sectors (windfarms—both on and offshore) may still offer the best potential, although at time of writing the oil price was comparatively low compared to recent months. For exhibitors, the success or failure of participating may still rest on how many far-flung international visitors the event can attract.

The 2010 event’s official figures included 70 delegations from 44 countries and around 120,000 trade visitors, who mainly attend during the working week leaving the weekend free for the enthusiasts and general public.

This biennial event, which alternates with Le Bourget in Paris, France, is being staged from Monday, July 9th through Sunday the 15th.

One sector that does keep Europe at the forefront of technology is innovation. The private sector will be the one to watch, as government investment in R&D falls and those large companies who rely on government grants slow their spending. If the economic situation worsens to the point where there is a “brain drain” from western countries to those in Asia, then the pulling power of large European events such as Farnborough could be seriously damaged.

Map of the main exhibition complex at Farnborough International Airshow. FIA

On a lighter and more optimistic note, one organization that has committed to the Farnborough Airshow is Italy’s Finmeccanica. The aerospace, defense and security player confirmed in March its participation in the Airshow until 2014, with an option to extend to 2016 after the gates have closed for the final time this year. It has secured its regular spot, “Finmeccanica Corner” near to the site’s main entrance. This followed an earlier agreement from European giant EADS to participate in the next three Airshows up to 2016.

Marco Conte, senior vice president of communications and image for Finmeccanica, said of the decision: “FIA continues to be one of the leading aerospace events with the sheer number of companies and countries involved, civil and military authorities, visitor numbers and above all the number and range of transactions concluded.”

While many manufacturers are turning their eyes toward the markets in the Middle East, Far East and perhaps South America, it would perhaps be a good time for those exhibitors who view Farnborough as a mainstay of their marketing strategy to negotiate, or renegotiate, their participation in a long-term deal. All European-based aerospace and defense events will be looking to secure participation over the next few years and could well be open to deals for commitment.

While at time of writing most helicopter OEM exhibitors were still to declare their final line-up of aircraft that would be taken to the airshow, the Bell/Boeing partnership was promising to bring a number of U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors for display on the ground and going through their paces in the air, both at Farnborough itself and the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairdford, Gloucestershire, which takes place the preceding weekend (July 6-8, 2012).

Although the Osprey has flown before at the Farnborough, this is one rotorcraft that Bell/Boeing are still working hard to sell to international operators. Interest is thought to be high in some Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. The aircraft may also have an outside chance of at least being looked at by the British Ministry of Defence for service in the logistical support aircraft to the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

The V-22s could operate in the role usually provided to the U.S. Navy by the Grumman C-2 Greyhound, but could augment that with additional capabilities from anti-submarine warfare, to cross-decking supplies, and even as a littoral combat maneuver asset. As a vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft it would have no problem operating from the UK’s carriers, which will not operate the “cat and trap” system due to their fleet of Joint Strike Fighter F-35Bs.

Farnborough has announced a series of themed mini-conferences to run over the business days of the airshow. The conferences addressing themes across the aerospace sector will draw together informed views on the factors affecting key markets and sustainability issues. These are:

• Tuesday, July 10: AEROSPACE, Enabling Growth—the Role for Aerospace;

• Tuesday, July 10: Space Conference;

• Wednesday, July 11: DEFENSE, Future Defense Technologies; and

• Wednesday, July 11: SECURITY, Aviation Security.

Specialist Lectures

GKN Aerospace has announced that it will be giving six individual lectures on different aspects of its research and development activities during Farnborough. Space is limited and anyone interested should contact the company quickly to reserve a seat. The lectures will be on the following:

• Monday, July 9: 1) Additive Manufacturing—a process with the potential to revolutionize industrial manufacturing; 2) Composite Repair Technologies–Laser ablation for the preparation of repairs.

• Tuesday, July 10: 3) Advanced fiber placement (AFP) in the manufacture of all-composite aircraft wing spars; 4) Transparencies and coatings—their evolution and potential future developments of intelligent coatings.

• Wednesday, July 11: 5) Composite engine fan systems, their benefits, progress made and evolving automated manufacturing technologies; 6) Advances in metallic manufacture—how linear friction welding and friction stir welding will reduce waste and improve performance.

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