Feature – Farnborough Fights Back

Once upon a time in a bygone era, Farnborough Airshow was the Airshow to attend. With many brand new and even some prototype aircraft being flown by the world’s greatest test pilots, the Hampshire town was the place to see past, present and future offerings for airlines and air forces around the globe. Decades later, Farnborough Airshow exists in a shadow of its former self – the 2012 show was one to forget for the aviation enthusiast but the team at FIA are keen to put things right for 2014.

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RAF Eurofighter Typhoon at FIA 2012

The 2012 show had many things wrong with it; overcrowding, an average display programme, star items from the trade show leaving before the weekend, the trade halls closing for the weekend, overpriced catering, lack of toilets, and an expensive ticket price for what was on offer. Earlier this year I had the chance to meet with the team behind the scenes and reiterate the concerns that we all had from the show two years previous.

I went along expecting to get into a bit of a spat over what is expected from an Airshow but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The team put their hands up and admitted that they’d let people down and that after holding several focus groups with both enthusiasts and local members of the community, they knew what they needed to do.

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FIA needs star items like the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle from 2012

To give you a little background – the trade show and public show are run as two completely separate events (Farnborough International Airshow and Farnborough Airshow respectively) and therefore trying to get trade aircraft to stay for the public show is a big ask. As was the case in 2012, many star items did in fact leave before the public show and for 2014 the team have tried to correct this. Investing quite heavily in manufacturers and foreign governments, the 5 1/2 hour public show has managed to secure star items like the F-35B, Airbus A380, Breitling Super Constellation and a Spanish Naval Harrier (the result of more than 14 months of negotiations with Spanish authorities).

F-35B © Lockheed Martin Corporation

The theme for the 2014 public show is ‘100 Years of Aviation’ and while some Airshows have had quite weak themes in the past, Farnborough Airshow are really focused on honouring this centenary and will be showcasing the past, present and future of aviation. As well as those aircraft already mentioned, there will also be a replica Me262 in the flying display this year – this is a fantastic achievement for Farnborough and it will be the first time that this aircraft has ever flown in the UK. The show will also commemorate 100 years since the start of the First World War with a brilliant display from the Great War Display Team.

It would appear that Sarah Harding, Head of Flight Operations at Farnborough has recognised that the show needs to evolve and offer the public a little something extra. For 2014, this will come in the form of some very special double acts. The F-35B will appear in the air with the Spanish Navy Harrier, demonstrating the capabilities of V/STOL aircraft while the Me262 will display with the Classic Air Force Meteor – both of these displays can only be seen this year at Farnborough. It’s not just in the air that things are improving either – for the first time ever, the static exhibit space is full for both the trade and public shows; and there are many operators still on a waiting list for a space should one become available.

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Sarah Harding, Head of Flight Operations with Shaun Ormrod, Chief Executive FIA

As well as the public show, the trade show is also set to be a massive hit this year with early figures indicating –

  • 20 bespoke buildings for individual exhibitors
  • 98% of self-build hall space sold
  • 18 international pavilions, 2 new: Norway and Malaysia
  • 56% international exhibitors; 44% UK exhibitors
  • 3 new countries participating – Tunisia, Malaysia and Thailand
  • 26% of exhibitors are new to FIA
  • 15% of exhibitors have increased space on 2012
  • Part of the new Chalet Row A development has been sold to Martin Baker for the next five shows
  • New delegations and UK MoD lounge
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The brand new Chalet Row A development

While there is a big tick against the flying and static displays, there is a lot outstanding to make 2014 a vast improvement on the last couple of shows. In February, the team were eager to tell us that the there will be many more changes – more toilets, a greater range of catering facilities and a revised crowd line layout.

Unfortunately though, the trade halls will remain closed. The closure came in 2012 due to two reasons; Health and Safety were concerned that the larger models could pose a risk to smaller children and also, participating companies could not afford to keep their stalls manned for the weekend where they weren’t making any sales. The days of going home with bags full of freebies are sadly over.

So it’s time to put 2012 to rest and look ahead to what’s in store for 2014. I seriously hope that everything comes together for the team this year and that both the trade show and public show turn out to be a massive success. Farnborough Airshow will never be able to reproduce the glory days but it can certainly do it’s best to return as a favourite amongst the enthusiast crowd.

FIA, I’ve got everything crossed for you!

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Farnborough International Airshow runs from 14th-18th July with the public show running from 19th-20th July. To find out more, head over to http://www.farnborough.com, follow @FIAFarnborough on Twitter and like Farnborough Airshow on Facebook.

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