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Farnborough: The tale of VIP taken to wrong Farnborough, missing two 'surprise' ATR press conferences

Finnish Commuter Airlines (Finncomm) managing director Juhani Pakari missed a Farnborough air show press conference organised with Franco-Italian turboprop manufacturer ATR after his driver embarrassingly took him to the wrong Farnborough.

Amazingly, the British driver ATR had arranged to take Pakari to a 09:30 aircraft contract signing event. However, the driver thought the Farnborough "near London" was the outer London suburb of Farnborough in Orpington, Kent rather than the far more distinguished town of Farnborough in Hampshire, a distance of 95km (58 miles). In the driver's defence, Farnborough, Kent does lie at the outer perimeter of Biggin Hill business aviation airport.

As a result, Pakari frustratingly ended up almost a hundred kilometres from the air show, at a different airfield, just as he was supposed to sign a $54 million deal for three ATR 72s.

Journalists had assembled at ATR’s chalet at 09:30 on 19 July to get a market briefing by ATR chief Filippo Bagnato and witness a contract signing with an undisclosed customer. At the beginning of the event Bagnato asked journalists to be patient because the customer “was somewhere in the middle of England” but was still expected to show up by the conclusion of his briefing.

Halfway through his briefing, senior vice-president commercial John Moore handed Bagnato a note with the bad news: Pakari had ended up in Farnborough, Kent and was going to have the miss the event. “We have to prepare a gold medal for this driver,”
Bagnato joked.

He refused to divulge who the customer was and asked journalists to wait until 11:30 for a contract signing in the static area. But Pakari also missed the 11:30 event and by the time he showed up all the journalists were at other events.

Pakari finally arrived at the correct Farnborough in the early afternoon. After signing the contract, presumably without any journalists in attendance, ATR put out a press release just before 14:00.

Finncomm, which already operates two ATR 42s and has six on outstanding order, will take delivery of the larger ATR 72s in 2008 and 2009. It is a small but growing domestic carrier based in western Finland operating ATR 42s, Saab 340s, and Embraer ERJ-145s in partnership with flag carrier Finnair. 

Despite this Farnborough hiccup, ATR has had another fantastic year, securing 50 orders to date. In the last 18 months, ATR has booked 140 orders, outstripping the 83 orders over the same period for the rival Bombardier Dash 8. Bagnato is proud to point out there has also only been 169 regional jet orders in the last year and a half. “For the first time in many years the turboprop orders have been bigger than the orders for regional jets. This is one we can keep in our file as a historical moment,” he says.

Despite all the success, it has not been a smooth Farnborough for ATR from a publicity standpoint. The manufacturer’s other Farnborough press conference, announcing a maintenance agreement with India's Kingfisher Airlines, was delayed by nearly an hour in the sweltering heat on 18 July to accommodate the late arrival of flamboyant chairman and chief executive Vijay Mallya.

Mallya’s delay was because a tour of the Airbus A380 took longer than expected. As Mallya commented: “I’ve just come from the A380, which in comparison to the ATR is rather large.” Kingfisher has two A380s on order. “It was a proud moment to see the Kingfisher logo on the aircraft,” said Mallya.
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