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Fun in the skies at Farnborough International Airshow 2014

Updated on July 12, 2014

Big Planes, big checks and big business


Great Britain it seems may be on the verge of a national breakdown with a scythe potentially splitting Scotland from England. If it comes about in September’s referendum it will have an impact on many aspects of life in what was until that time a ‘United Kingdom’, not least on defence.

This week’s Farnborough International Airshow, is not just about plane spotters pointing to the skies and looking at the new shiny aircraft, nor it is about trying in vain to take a decent photograph of a US Navy fighter jet speeding past at Mach 2; it’s about national pride and prestige. Long gone are the days when Farnborough was a showcase for purely British innovation in aviation. Most people in the 100’s of thousands of visitors who biannually tour the stands and attend the press conferences cannot recall a time when British aircraft dominated the sales marketplace of the world. I know I can’t and I have been on this planet for 45 years.

No, today Farnborough, as well as the Paris Airshow, are showcases for a worldwide global market. Globalisation, many claim, was caused by aircraft shrinking the world, at least in terms of time and business and boy does Farnborough do good business. All the big boys in aerospace, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Airbus, Embraer and Agusta Westland to name a handful will be at the show proffering their latest products and innovations. Whilst the big noises will come from the big players can the small guys and girls be heard above all the razzmatazz and social smoozing that goes on behind the doors of the luxury corporate chalets that pop up at Farnborough like a biannual rash and just as quickly fade away after multi-million dollar deals are inked.

For the United Kingdom Farnborough represents one of the best, if not the best opportunity to sell aircraft and weapon systems to the rest of the world. British defence exports, it was announced in early July, grew in 2013 by 11 percent to £9.8 billion, or 22 percent of the global defence market. A market that continues to be dominated by the presence of the United States of America; who are not inclined to see their share of the defence pie shrink anymore. ADS the company that compiled the statistics ahead of Farnborough 2014 also indicated that foreign defence budgets, like those in the UK, continue to be cut and the defence industry worldwide is fighting tooth and claw for any scraps that might come their way. Two thirds of British companies in the aviation and defence market place are confident that the tide is about to change and they are exploring foreign sales opportunities. ADS indicate that this is a significant departure for many as traditionally 70 percent of the British marketplace is domestic. The Ministry of Defence is reluctant or perhaps restricted in its ability to place substantial orders in Great Britain at present as the Government continues to battle the budget deficit. One of the most effective ways, it seems, is to tighten the Defence budget ever tighter, squeezing the life out of the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the British Army. The counterpoint argument is a simple one; the British Government is keen to get more for their money.

Farnborough International Airshow is, and always has been, a mixture of business and show business. There is an electric charge in the air most days that is shattered by the thunderous sound of jet engines at full afterburner turning the skies into a pilot’s playground. The smell of kerosene mixes with the smell of a burger van on the ground as you step in a child’s lost ice cream cone on the floor. Yes Farnborough 2014 is all set to break the $72billion worth of orders placed last time the Hampshire airfield welcomed the world’s aviation industry; but by how much is anyone’s guess.


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