Most of the serious aerospace business at Farnborough goes on behind closed doors, but it is in the skies and static display that the world’s attention will be focused at this year’s show, with treats for fans of both latest-generation airliners and fighters.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will follow its international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford on 11-13 July with an arrival at Farnborough – a few minutes' flying time distant for a supersonic warplane.
On the commercial side, Qatar Airways will be making the biggest splash, with no fewer than four types on display, including the first Farnborough appearance of the Airbus A350-900 in a hybrid colour scheme featuring the liveries of both the Gulf carrier and the airframer.
Qatar will also show its first Airbus A380 after taking delivery in June of the first three of 10 superjumbos it has on order (it has options for three more), as well as a sharklet-equipped A320 and a Boeing 787-8.
The appearance of the F-35B short take-off and landing variant – 138 of which will be operated by the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy – is a major coup for the biennial show, which takes place during the week of 14 July.
Full-scale development of the fighter began 13 years ago, and UK suppliers are heavily involved in the programme, as a first-tier participant with a 15% share. They include BAE Systems which makes the aft fuselage assembly.
The country invested $2 billion in the system development and demonstration phase in the early 2000s, making the UK second only behind the USA among the eight national partners involved from the beginning.
The UK debuts will be the first time the JSF has crossed an ocean, seven years and 15,200 flight hours after taking to the air for the first time in December 2006. However, on 25 February , an F-35A and F-35B completed a 5.7h mission in the USA.
In a neat loop of aviation history, also appearing at this year’s show will be the original vertical take-off and landing jet, the British Aerospace Sea Harrier, a veteran of UK military campaigns such as the Falklands war.
The other major airliner that is due to enter service this year is the Bombardier CSeries. However – although it would be an enormous marketing fillip for a type still struggling for orders – it appears unlikely that the CS100 will appear at Farnborough.
The issue for the Canadian manufacturer is that while its sales team would love the opportunity to show off the narrowbody at the year’s biggest air show, the type is bogged down in a delayed and highly-complex flight test programme.
Recent Farnboroughs have seen mega-orders, but whether this year’s show will see a similar bonanza is hard to predict, as airlines and manufacturers tend to keep cards close to chests. Boeing, in fact, refuses to play the “orders race” by “storing” announcements for the week.
However, it would be surprising if at least one of the blue-chip airlines did not declare their hand. Leasing companies could also be at the fore, and manufacturers of smaller jets, including Embraer and Sukhoi/Superjet International, will be keen to make a mark.
Speculation is growing, meanwhile, that Airbus may declare its hand with the A330neo. Toulouse has been hinting for weeks that it will take a decision on whether to launch a re-engined version of its smallest widebody in the middle of the year.
With the smallest version of the A350, the -800, shedding orders, a refreshed variant of the twinjet might help Airbus win over existing A330 customers or those tempted by the 787 but unwilling to take their place in a long queue.
Farnborough air show regulars may also this year notice something more enduring about the show site that, for one week every two years, transforms part of a Hampshire airfield into a bustling marketplace of the global aerospace industry.
The traditional prefabricated A-row chalets – the ones facing the flightline – are being replaced with permanent hospitality suites, allowing exhibitors to hire them for several years and leave contents in place, saving the cost of fitting out the chalet each show.
It is part of a longer-term vision by organiser Farnborough International to create the world’s best air show facility as well as a venue that attracts clients outside the Farnborough cycle. Also on the wish list is a permanent convention centre on the site of the temporary hall One.
Farnborough International already has a smaller permanent exhibition space – Five – which is well used throughout the year. Although it has to get its plans approved by both its landlord TAG – which runs the neighbouring business aviation airport – and the local authority, it is confident they will gain favour.
Additional reporting by Stephen Trimble
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