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Monday, September 1, 2008

Heard in the Hallways: Does the Future Include Farnborough?

Perhaps it was the economic troubles, the weak dollar, the fair weather or competition from other international aerospace exhibitions. But nearly every exhibitor, attendee and fellow journalist that Rotor & Wing queried during July’s Farnborough Air Show and since described this year’s event in the same way: slow.

Farnborough organizers betrayed no worries, claiming new orders worth about £17.5 billion ($35 billion) for some 320 aircraft and equipment were placed during the first three business days of the week-long show that opened July 14. They said the 1,500 exhibitors this year marked a 5 percent increase over the number at the 2006 show. The biennial event is organized by a subsidiary of the U.K. trade group the Society of British Aerospace Companies.

With the exception of AgustaWestland’s announcements of its expanded partnership with the Russian helicopter industry and its plans for a new twin-engine aircraft, exhibitors from the helicopter industry had a low-profile at the show. They provided their regular sets of company and product update briefings and packaged signings for aircraft orders. But traffic in chalets and at stands in the exhibit halls seemed to most to be slower than even 2006’s levels, which were stymied by record heat in the U.K. during that show.

That revived the questions that arise periodically about whether the industry needs all these major exhibitions. One top manufacturing executive said that, given his druthers, he’d exhibit at the Paris and Berlin air shows and skip Farnborough altogether. He was not alone. With helicopter makers focused on sales prospects in Eastern Europe and Russia, one wonders whether a venue east of Paris might be more appealing than the one to the west.

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