By Craig Hoyle at Farnborough

While on the face of it RIAT and Farnborough compete, they have different strengths

This year's Farnborough air show was the fourth to go back-to-back with the more publicly-orientated Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) event at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Now the dust has settled, what are the implications of two such major events having to co-exist in today's world of cut-throat business, and are show-goers being short-changed by their competing demands?

Every two years since 2000, the annual RIAT event has found itself immediately preceding the business-to-business demands of Farnborough, but early indications from this year's events suggest that both are living together healthily and happily. Initial figures from RIAT's organisers suggest attendance was up 4% on the 2005 event at around 167,000 visitors, while the number of trade visitors to Farnborough - excluding the show's two public days - was also expected to better 2004's total of 133,000.

But scratch below the surface and some tensions still exist. Both put demands on already stretched corporate budgets through their associated hospitality costs, strain company logistics systems and add to the pressure on senior executives by extending their required period of duty. Speculation that Fairford could host a growing level of flight activity as operating restrictions continue to narrow the scope of the air display at Farnborough could exacerbate this issue for future events, but the shows' current different objectives are - for now - the key to their combined success.

Farnborough-goers frequently bemoan the lack of hardware on show on the tarmac and in the sky at the Hampshire site, but the event's ability to attract almost 1,500 exhibitors and to host the announcement of new business worth over $38 billion this year underlines its claimed status as "the world's pre-eminent business-to-business air show".

Likewise, RIAT is good at what it does best: serving up a mouth-watering array of military aircraft from around the globe. While the static display at this year's event unquestionably suffered as a result of the operational demands placed on participants, such as the RAF's commitment to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, its organisers nonetheless succeeded in drawing 300 aircraft from around 24 nations, including Australia, Brazil and RIAT debutante Pakistan.

Proximity pay-off

Visitors to Fairford this year were able to benefit from Farnborough's proximity through the participation of two US Marine Corps Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transports, and by the appearance of RSK MiG's astonishing MiG-29OVT thrust-vectoring fighter. But the paying public did miss out on the opportunity to see other new aircraft that were held over for high-profile appearances at Farnborough.

The Gloucestershire crowds were denied the chance to witness the first show appearance of BAE Systems' Nimrod MRA4 maritime reconnaissance and attack aircraft on 15 July, with its participation pulled from the flight schedule at the eleventh hour. This was to keep BAE's powder dry for the announcement of a 12-aircraft production order for the type on the second day of the Farnborough show but, with all eyes still on Airbus, the milestone went largely unnoticed. Likewise, Raytheon Systems withdrew the RAF's new Sentinel R1 airborne stand-off radar system from RIAT to increase its impact at Farnborough - even though the type had made its first public appearance during the earlier Waddington air show.

These were missed opportunities for industry, the RAF and the UK Ministry of Defence alike. By flying a new piece of kit at Farnborough you are preaching to the converted, but by profiling new equipment at RIAT you are hopefully wowing the fare-paying public, winning the hearts and minds of the UK taxpayer and also attracting the next generation of potential military operators.

Those closely involved with RIAT are concerned that the event has failed to angle itself more towards the business customer and is not able to lay on the press conferences associated with dedicated trade shows. But that is arguably where they have been doing it right for so long - corporate hospitality and company exhibits should continue to grow at the event, but not at the expense of the visiting public and the all-important flying display. The next show at Fairford will take place from 14-15 July 2007, while Farnborough will return from 14-20 July 2008 - again straight after the excitement at RIAT. ■

Source: Flight International