As the industry gathers here for Farnborough 2010, it will look back at a two-year downhill slide from the peak of its business cycle. The question is, has it reached the bottom of the descent.
The two commercial giants, Airbus and Boeing, are guardedly optimistic that, at least in global terms, the worst is over. At best, however, there will likely remain pockets of economic discomfort—such as tightening defense expenditures within Europe and the U.S.
The risk of a double-dip recession also is casting a long shadow, because the recovery continues to be fragile in certain economies. The impact of the plight of several European states—and the continuing pressure this places on the euro—is still playing out.
Airbus has managed the European downturn better than in the past. The company’s market base is broader; the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific regions have, so far, weathered the economic storm better than the European manufacturer’s traditional arenas.
The show, which runs July 19-25, will see Farnborough product debuts from Airbus and Boeing. The Airbus Military A400M airlifter is finally making an appearance. This program exhibits many of the classic pitfalls of European collaboration: delay, political procrastination and rising costs. Europe’s industrial strength is the ability, more often than not, to manage such trials and tribulations and to produce—should the indications of the A400M early flight trials continue to be borne out—a capable and versatile platform.
Boeing’s 787 twin-widebody passenger aircraft also will grace the flight line, and is yet another project that provides a multitude of lessons to be learned. The company is growing in confidence that it has now endured the worst of this particular program’s difficulties.
The show also will provide ample opportunity for sparring between the two commercial colossi, be it on the recent World Trade Organization ruling, or on the timing of updating and eventually replacing their present narrowbody airliners.
There also will be an intriguing hint of where the sector might begin to tilt, with the Chinese FC-1/JF-17 light fighter due to make its first Farnborough appearance.
Beijing intends to become a global player in aerospace, an ambition that will first manifest in the commercial environment. Boeing CEO James McNerney says the question in the commercial arena is not if, but simply when this will happen.
On the military side during this, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, there are those who would argue the days of the manned fighter are drawing to a close. The week before the show opened, the U.K. unveiled the Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstrator. The UCAV is, undoubtedly, one shape of the future, but there is life yet in the crewed combat aircraft, reflected in the slew of ongoing competitions and in early interest in the potential characteristics of a “sixth-generation” fighter.