Review – Farnborough Airshow 2014

After a hugely successful and record breaking week at the Farnborough International Airshow, airfield owners TAG once again opened up the gates to some 80,000 people for a mid-summer spectacle.

I think almost everyone will agree that the shows at Farnborough have become a shadow of their former self and having had many complaints from the 2012 show, the team at FIA were keen to show that they could improve on their offering.

I attended the Sunday show two years ago; the weather was beautiful but the flying display programme was average at best and the showground was far too crowded. Having held several focus groups, the organising committee had a clear idea of what they needed to do to put Farnborough back on the map.

Fast forward almost two years to the launch day of a re-branded ‘Farnborough Airshow’ and it was an almost unrecognisable event. The entire team held their hands up and admitted in front of the media that they’d fallen behind and delivered a mediocre show in 2012. It was revealed that several star items had been secured for the ‘Celebration of 100 years of aviation’ show; a Spanish Navy AV-8B II Harrier (the result of over 14 months of negotiations with Spanish authorities and a first for Farnborough), the replica Me-262 from Germany, the Breitling sponsored Super Constellation and the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II.

Through absolutely no fault of their own, just weeks later the Me-262 developed a technical fault which meant that it was to take a sabatical for the rest of the 2014 display season and after a long drawn out PR disaster, Lockheed Martin announced that the F-35 would not be making the transatlantic journey due to a grounding being lifted just days before the show started.

Eyes To The Sky

As mentioned previously, the flying display was one of the main areas that needed development and as well as announcing star items at the launch, it was also explained that a contract had been signed with Airbus to keep several of their ‘trade’ items on the ground for the public show. It later transpired that this signing had been part of a new major sponsorship deal with the aircraft manufacturer for the public two day event.

The Airbus backing meant that the A400M, A380 and E-Fan were all displaying in the flying programme over the weekend and as usual, the test pilots put on an incredible show. Seeing an airliner the size of the A380 being thrown about the sky as if it were a fighter is something that has to be seen to be believed. The A400M (‘Grizzly’ as it’s known to it’s testing team) is due to enter service with the RAF later this year as the ‘Atlas’, so to see it at Farnborough demonstrating it’s tactical capabilities was a real treat. It has to be said that when it comes to large aircraft displays, Airbus are the Kings.

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A contract was also signed with Boeing to supply the airshow with its F/A-18F Super Hornet – the aircraft had flown every day for the trade week and even though I’d already seen it, the technical demonstration of the Super Hornet is simply stunning. Even with the airspace restrictions enforced by Heathrow, the Boeing flown display was easily one of the most entertaining of the weekend. A combination of high-g flicking and turning built up to a finale which consisted of a square loop flown to maximum altitude.

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Without a doubt though, the star of the show was the Spanish Navy AV-8B II Harrier. The RAF disbanded their Harrier squadrons in 2010 and retired the aircraft amidst the political storm that was the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review). Having been absent from the UK circuit for over three years, a Harrier in the Hampshire sky was an almost perfect way to signal Farnborough’s commitment to delivering a better show. The display itself was reminiscent of the ‘role demo’ type displays that the RAF aircraft was forced to fly in it’s final years – three high speed passes and then five full minutes of dirty, smoking hovering. The Harrier is an incredible machine and at a show where it’s successor was a no-show, it was a poetic reminder that the RAF GR.9s were retired way before their time.

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Other highlights from the flying display included the Midair Squadron Canberra PR.9 (filling the gap left by the Me-262) which signed off on that unmistakable howl, a full routine from the Red Arrows who in their 50th year look at the top of their game, a brilliant display of solo aerobatics from Mark Jefferies, a decent routine from Kev Rumens in XH558 and a stunningly beautiful display from the majestic, dolphin-shaped Super Constellation. The ‘Connie’ was on the ground at RIAT last year but this was the first time I’d seen it in the air and even though the display consisted of just two straight and level flypasts, the sight and sound of a 1950s prop-driven airliner was a truly spine-tingling experience.

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It’s fair to say that the past, present and future were fully represented at this year’s 2014 ’100 Years of Aviation’ show.

A Missed Opportunity

During the week, the Farnborough International Airshow takes full advantage of the space available on the ground to showcase commercial and private aircraft, helicopters and in places, light aircraft. The static aircraft that had departed the trade show on the Thursday and Friday left plenty of space that should have been filled but for some reason it wasn’t. Apart from the Catalina, a Royal Navy Merlin and the relocation of the Super Constellation, the static area felt empty. The main reason for this was that the Alenia Aermacchi, TAI and US DoD areas were at the far east of the showground – three of the biggest contingents that remained on the ground for the public days.

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I would have liked to have seen the empty space filled with more aircraft that could have represented the ‘100 Years of Aviation’ theme. There are many warbirds in this country and a handful of classic jets that would have padded out the showground a little more. It would even have been nice to see some aircraft from the RAF and AAC – Farnborough surely could have been a massive recruitment drive for both forces. On an airfield the size of Farnborough, gaps are unfortunately incredibly noticeable.

The Showground

As mentioned previously, 2012 was overcrowded and this meant that queues for both toilets and food had waiting times upwards of 30 minutes. 2014 was a different story (at least on Saturday when I attended) – many more toilets were provided and certainly at the grandstand end of the airfield, they were very clean and well maintained. Food was on the edge of becoming too expensive but at an average price of £5 for a single hot item, it seemed to fit in with the majority of other events up and down the country.

New for 2014 and on the back of similar ideas at both RIAT and Bournemouth Airshow, Farnborough Airshow Live! made it’s debut appearance. Fronted by TV presenters Michael Underwood and Angelica Bell, I have to say that I was a little nervous when I heard about the idea but any worries were soon put to rest. It turns out that both are genuinely interested in aviation and this became clear from some of the conversations that took place between Michael and the commentary team during the show. There was also a large stage just behind the main grandstand that allowed the presenters to question the likes of the Red Arrows in front of the audience. As well as the stage, the air displays were being streamed to large TV screens dotted around the showground thanks to fantastic videography from the guys over at Planes TV – this meant that you could go and get something to eat without being too far from the action.

On the whole I think this concept worked extremely well, even more so with the strong presence of families. It may not have appealed to the hardcore enthusiast but at the end of the day, Farnborough Airshow is targeted as a major attraction to families all over the South of England.

How Much?

With a gate price of £48 per head (under 16s go free), I can’t help but feel that Farnborough is somewhat lost when it comes to ticketing. On the basis of an average family (mum, dad, two teenagers and an infant), the entrance fee alone is more than £140; add travelling costs, food and drink to that and you’re probably looking at somewhere in the region of £200-£250 for a day out at the airshow.

By contrast, a ticket for the Royal International Airshow (an eight hour flying display and extensive static park) costs £44pp and a two day ticket for the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day costs just £39pp (the gate price for the Saturday is just £25). Even with a varied and entertaining flying programme like this year’s, the ticket price is still way off. If the team at FIA are serious about putting Farnborough back on the map, something has to be done about the entrance fee – there is simply no excuse.

One thing that did come down in price however was the souvenir display programme. Created by Key Publishing and priced at just £4, the quality of the programme was exceptional and a massive improvement on the over-glossy, advert filled magazine from 2012.

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The juxtaposition of the ticket price and programme is just mind boggling. I really do find it difficult to understand.

A Promising Step Forwards

To say that Farnborough Airshow is ‘the best airshow in the world’ right now would be a lie. It isn’t. What it is though, is a solid airshow that’s making footsteps in the right direction. The team listened and acted upon certain elements that were heavily criticised in recent years but there are still a handful of things that need addressing, most importantly the shows pricing structure.

With the strong re-branding and procurement of key airborne stars, Farnborough Airshow is definitely making a comeback one step at a time. In years gone by, Farnborough was the home of cutting-edge British technology and a worldwide stage for aviation; don’t be scared of it FIA, embrace it.

Having just celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the centenary of WWI and the Red Arrows 50th anniversary, aviation is once again making the headlines and one thing is clear – this country is still very much interested in airshows.

It’s time to take full advantage of that and I’m counting down the days until FIA 2016.

Farnborough, it’s over to you…

Farnborough International Airshow 2014 – Tuesday Highlights

The second day at Farnborough International Airshow promises to be just as successful as the first. Today is a big day for Boeing as the P-8 Poseidon gets airborne in front of an international crowd for the first time in the UK.

News

  • The MoD and Agusta Westland have confirmed that the upgraded Merlin HM2 has entered service four months ahead of schedule.
  • Martin Baker has signed a deal to supply the Turkish Air Force’s Hurkus B turbo-prop trainers with the Mk T16~N ejection seat.
  • Boeing has so far received: 490 787-8 aircraft, 409 787-9 aircraft and 132 787-10 aircraft.
  • Air Asia X are to order 50 Airbus A330neo aircraft.
  • Boeing reveals key elements of their new 777X; the newest twin-aisle long-haul aircraft. Advances include a cabin altitude of 6000 ft, windows 15% larger than the competition, all new interior design, a cabin that is 16 inches wider than the competition, next generation LED lighting and lower cabin noise. Production on over 300 orders begins in 2017 with initial delivery targeted for 2020.
  • UPDATE: The Lockheed Martin F-35A/B/C models have all been cleared to fly but Lockheed Martin and the DoD have made the decision not to send the aircraft to the UK. Big blow for the UK and for Lockheed Martin considering an order is yet to be signed – with the cabinet reshuffle, just how committed is the UK to the Joint Strike Fighter Programme?

Displays

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.