In the four years since its last showing the aerospace industry has seen some exceptionally uncertain times so this year’s Farnborough Airshow, held from July 18-22, is more significant than ever in promoting how it can tackle the challenges ahead. Ed Hill reports.
Air travel and the businesses and manufacturers associated with it was one of the hardest hit sectors by COVID-19, putting into sharp focus its inherent weaknesses and long-term sustainability. So, it’s not surprising that in a post-pandemic climate the industry is exploring solutions to fundamentally alter how it operates in the future.
No doubt the global health crisis is in part the reason the organiser of the Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) has reassessed what it hopes the event can deliver for the aerospace industry when it returns for the first time since 2018 this summer.
FIA want to make the event not only the vast smorgasbord of industry technology, products and services that visitors are familiar with, but also a convener and call to arms for some of the biggest issues and challenges that the industry faces.
Commenting at a dedicated preview day in May, Gareth Rogers CEO of FIA said: “We have consulted with the industry, and those who represent it, to find what they most want from the event and have come up with key themes this year that we believe will really resonate with exhibitors and visitors and bring beneficial change.”
This decision is the main reason behind the creation of the Aerospace Global Forum (AGF), a series of conferences and initiatives that will run in tandem with the show aimed to address topics such as skills, AI, Industry 4.0, electrification, and without doubt the most important challenge, sustainability and net zero targets in aviation.
An assembly for innovation
The AGF will provide a platform to connect, engage and learn through a wide-ranging five-day programme of thought leadership sessions and discussions with leaders from the finance and energy sectors, governments, climate groups, start-ups, OEMs and the supply chain to share, debate and galvanise cooperation.
“These issues are existential ones which are affecting most industries,” Mr Rogers continues. “Take climate change, for example. The whole sector is going to have to deal with this issue. There’s not one business or organisation that can solve it, so it's absolutely vital that we start these conversations now.”
Farnborough has created an 800-seat theatre in which the AGF conference programme will take place. This is one of two new soundproofed spaces adjoining halls 3 and 4 that have been newly built for this year’s event, the other space being the site of a new dedicated Space zone.
“Those in the industry all have the same objective and that’s what we are trying to help achieve,” Mr Rogers adds. “It's not about emphasising the negative; it's about saying how do we change what we do because aerospace is vital to the world in many ways the general public may not immediately appreciate. We have to resolve them and feel the convening power of Farnborough is the ideal place to do it.”
Moreover, the AGF is intended to be an initiative that will go beyond just the five days of Farnborough. A series of spin-off forums and conferences are expected to take place with accredited partners throughout the year.
Faces of the future
Another important topic of concern for the industry according to Mr Rogers is the skills shortage. With that in mind Farnborough is also making a change to its approach to this theme in 2022.
A development from the Future Fridays programme that promotes the aerospace industry to youngsters in the 8 to 14 year bracket, Pioneers of Tomorrow will be aimed at the 16-21 age group and older, who have already started their journey studying STEM subjects – now termed STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) – and related careers with an emphasis on the aerospace sector.
According to Boeing more than two million people will need to be recruited into the aviation industry over the next 20 years.
“Many companies want to solve their recruitment problems in the more immediate future so this is an attempt to change the focus of the event for young people who have already made decisions about studying STEM subjects and their careers, and bringing Farnborough to that audience specifically for the first time, targeting the next generation of people who can help solve the industry’s workforce problems within the next few years,” Mr Rogers explains.
Aimed at school leavers, apprentices and graduates, Pioneers of Tomorrow will feature a careers hub, STEAM activities, inspirational guest speakers and technology innovations but on a normal trade day of the show.
“It’s important it takes place on a trading day so that young people can see the industry in that light. Friday will be a day to help businesses deal with the staffing issues that they face so I would urge them not to let the opportunity pass them by and showcase what our incredible industry has to offer,” Mr Rogers says.
When it comes to the primary role of the airshow to facilitating business, FIA has expanded its well-established Meet the Buyer programme to what it now names the Business Connections Exchange.
Newly introduced software plus targeted input from buyers and suppliers will mean a better matching process for companies that sign-up to the Exchange, with unlimited meetings available over three days for a fee that also includes a personalised support service.
An expanded military and civil delegations programme will also be part of the show. In 2018 there were 156 civil and military delegations with 831 meetings with 201 companies.
A new orbit
As mentioned before the Space zone at the show will be housed in a new dedicated soundproof building and as usual the daily flying displays will be a chance to see some of the latest military and civil aircraft in action.
“Most developments at Farnborough are driven by the industry and the space sector is becoming more prevalent than ever,” Mr Rogers notes. “That what’s really driving demand for more exhibition space and the development of our new immersive Space zone.”
As in previous years the show will also be promoted through its FINN (Farnborough International News Network) media outlet with numerous conference interviews, videos and social media postings.
So, with an anticipated 1,500 exhibitors from more than 45 countries, 80,000 visitors, 70% of them from overseas, Farnborough is in prime position to renew and reboot the industry.
“We are really proud that Farnborough truly is an international event and this will be the first global get together for the industry since the pandemic so we have a sense of responsibility that it needs to be a success. Farnborough is the birthplace of UK aviation and has always had a pioneering spirit which we hope is represented by these new developments,” Mr Rogers concludes.
“I think there will be a celebratory atmosphere as people will be able to meet up together in person again. That's the feeling we're sensing from the industry, so we are really excited about being able to stage another Farnborough Airshow.
Farnborough International Airshow