Commerce among the canapes at RIAT

Glorious weather, a hospitality village restricted Baghdad Green Zone-style to invited guests, no press conferences with pesky prying journalists, and a chance to indulge champagne-glass in hand with your passion for watching spectacular displays by military aircraft. No wonder industry – for whom attending the big trade shows is a necessary evil – loves the Royal International Air Tattoo, held over the weekend at RAF Fairford in the UK.


A lot of business gets done at RIAT – true, it’s over a relaxed lunch of sea bass and semillon blanc or Earl Grey and smoked salmon sandwiches, rather than the power meetings and business breakfasts of Farnborough or Paris. And it’s more about schmoozing and relationship building than doing hard deals. But the calibre of attendees – generally flown in to the out-of-the-way air base and secluded in their corporate marquees from the hoi poloi – is impressive: chief executives, politicians, top brass and Whitehall mandarins.


There are pickings for the journalists who attend, although the closest most come to a scoop are the ones used by the waiters to serve the lemon sorbet. Dr John Reid – the UK‘s combative new defence secretary – was there. The Scot is a complete contrast to his predecessor, Geoff Hoon, who looked as comfortable among squaddies or airmen as a stray siamese in Battersea Dogs’ Home. An announcement on the UK Watchkeeper UAV programme was hinted at, as was something on Typhoon Tranche 3 and we were escorted over by BAE Systems to the Eurofighter Typhoon in the static display, notebooks at the ready. In the event, Reid – famous for bombastically defending government policy to a generally sceptical media in the run-up to the Iraq war – met a Typhoon crew, climbed into the cockpit for a photo opportunity and said what a wonderful aircraft it was – it was his first time “up this close” to the UK’s latest warfighter, he noted. Almost as up close as the Typhoon pilot, who later that day almost succeeded in mowing the grass at Fairford during one manoeuvre. Anyone see it or got pictures, by the way? Our photographer missed it because he was on the “ice cream run” at the time.


There has been talk of RIAT playing a complementary role to Farnborough every second year – RIAT takes place the weekend before the air show – with the business taking place at Farnborough and air displays at Fairford. The base’s inaccessibility, in the rural west of England, and the fact that it is a charity event probably makes that impossible. But Fairford’s remoteness has its advantages – Boeing flew its ScanEagle UAV, the first time a UAV has flown in a public display at a European air show. Trying applying for permission to do that in the stockbroker belt.


Let us know what you think about RIAT and Farnborough.

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