In 1948, with the UK slowly recovering from the Second World War, 187 exhibitors gathered at Farnborough aerodrome in Hampshire to show the public the "best in British aviation engineering". Sixty years on, the Farnborough air show (14-20 July) may still be on the same site but is a very different beast - one of two truly global, multi-sector events, combining four days of business-to-business networking and old-fashioned air display followed by a public weekend.
Like most established air shows, Farnborough has faced its problems: pressure on marketing budgets and the threat from niche, single-sector events, such as the annual European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Geneva (20-22 May) - growing in stature in its eighth year. A chalet or stand at Farnborough is an expensive piece of aerospace real estate. Add to that the cost of flights, accommodation, entertaining and transport over seven days or more, and it is easy to see why chief finance officers are not always the greatest fans of big air shows.
Farnborough's defence is that its critical mass and heritage mean it still matters. It attracts a top-level, multi-sector audience, including all-important military visitors from the UK, USA and other big-spending nations, as well as everyone who is anyone in aerospace. That means for manufacturers it is a huge opportunity to catch the eye of or snatch some time with customers further up the supply chain. And the media and analyst community is there in force, giving exhibitors the perfect platform for order and programme announcements and to grab some favourable coverage.
The other two main biennial multi-sector air shows this year are more regional in nature, but important all the same. The Singapore air show (19-24 February) is now under a new name and management and at a new 140,000m2 (1.5 million ft2) site on reclaimed land next to the island's international airport after Reed Exhibitions (Flight International's sister company) decamped with the Asian Aerospace brand to Hong Kong last year. Despite the split, the organisers believe its appeal to both a civil and commercial audience in the burgeoning Asian market will result in it remaining "one of the top three air shows in the world".
The ILA show in Berlin (27 May-1 June), organised by German aerospace trade body BDLI, remains an enigma. Held just weeks before the much bigger Farnborough, support from the German government and domestic heavyweight EADS, as well as its popularity with small general aviation manufacturers and exhibitors from central Europe and Russia, have meant it has confounded repeated predictions of its demise. Exhibitor numbers broke the 1,000 mark for the first time in 2006 and visitors were also up on the previous event.
Chile, China and Cape Town
This year, other regional shows on the two-yearly cycle include Chile's FIDAE (31 March -6 April) in Santiago, a show very much driven by that country's defence procurement cycle the Zhuhai air show in China (4-9 November), still important given the huge spending power of the country's airlines and Africa Aerospace & Defence in Cape Town (17-21 September), another show beholden to its host country's military spending plans.
The business aviation calendar continues to get more crowded. Until the turn of the decade, the National Business Aviation Association's own US convention was more or less the only show in town. The convention, this year returning to Orlando (6-8 October), is still by far the biggest, but is joined by the NBAA-backed EBACE, a small Asian version, ABACE, in Hong Kong (14 February), as well as the second Middle East Business Aviation or MEBA (16-18 November), organised in Dubai by Fairs & Exhibitions, the company behind the Dubai air show.
In niche sectors, Reed Exhibitions is expanding the Interiors brand from its original show in Hamburg (1-3 April) to launch a US version in Long Beach, California (9-11 September), held alongside the in-flight entertainment community's main gathering, WAEA. The two big training and simulation events remain in their spiritual home, Orlando, base of so much of the industry, with the civil version WATS/RATS on 22-24 April, and its military counterpart I/ITSEC on 1-4 December.
The unmanned aviation sector's big get-together, Unmanned Systems North America, moves this year to San Diego (9-12 June), while the testing, design and manufacturing community has the Reed Exhibitions-organised Aerospace 08 in Munich (15-17 April). For the rotorcraft sector, alongside the annual Heli-Expo in Houston (24-26 February), there is a new southern European version of HeliTech, the show held in odd years in Duxford, UK, with the launch of the event in Estoril, Portugal (14-16 October).