Fair’s Fair in Farnborough


In view of the fact that, between them, they’re delivering 100 new passenger planes to the world’s airlines each month, it’s understandable that Boeing and Airbus are both looking pretty smug at the Farnborough Air Show, raging even as you read this in a field in the south of England. Neither, though, is expected to introduce anything revolutionary. Boeing, newly expanded into South Carolina, will hope against hope that Fairgoers are impressed by an elongated new version of its Dreamliner, while Airbus, which has just opened plants in Tianjin, China, and Mobile, Alabama, hopes that its newly upgraded, 14-percent-more-efficient A330 engine will elicit the loudest oohs and aahs, though Boeing’s marketing boss has sneeringly described Airbus’s estimates of its fuel savings as “extraordinarily optimistic.”

Many Farnborough-watchers had expected that new airplane-builders from Canada, Japan, and China would steal some of The Big Two’s thunder. Specifically, many hoped that The Bombardier CSeries might emerge at the fair as a serious challenger, but the plane hasn’t actually flown since May, when its engine was discovered to be what Farnborough natives might call wonky.

(Given that Canadians are known for their politeness and eagerness to please, by the way, this column is officially dismayed by the unapologetically bellicose name Bombardier. I think I might have suggested Kumbaya Aerospace as a kinder, gentler alternative.)

Northrup Grumman and Boeing will both be hoping to be commissioned to build a new bomber for the US Air Force. Boeing is thought to be something less than rapturous about the F35 built by its partner Lockheed Martin having been grounded three weeks ago because of the wonkiness of its own engine.

Over the years, in any event, the Fair has ceased to be mostly about selling planes, and become about manufacturers brainstorming or even hobnobbing with program partners. Rather wonderfully described by the Wall Street Journal as “Part arms bazaar, part industrial petting zoo,” it continues to feel in some ways like a huge trade fair, with brave little aerospace startups trying to get executives in Italian suits and uniformed military bigwigs to pay attention to them while waddling between the Major Players’ huge, custom-built private pavilions to wash elegant canapés down with Dom Perignon.

Fans of Airbus’s A350, and this column is certainly one, will delight in Qatar Airways’ flying the plane at Farnborough for the first time at a European air show. Qatar will also be displaying an A320 and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and thus taking up an awful lot of space. Qater chief executive Al (You Can Call Him Al) Baker has gone on record as believing that “these aircraft symbolize our dynamic growth and our constant focus on world-class quality.”

Having started life in 1932, when the Society of British Aircraft Constructors held an exhibition in Hendon, the Fair still holds the world record for the most planes — 22! — looped in formation. But it hasn’t always been fun, games and world records for those attending. In 1952, 31 died when a DH 110 jet fighter disintegrated while airborne and then crashed into the crowd.

This coming weekend, most of the exhibition halls will be shut, but there will be a gala funfair for kiddies, the bomber-buyers of tomorrow.

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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • tchase at 3:57pm July 18, 2014

    Nice article! Especially appreciative of the use of the term, “wonkiness!”

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