After the impact of CoVID-19 and the resulting slump in the aviation sector, the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow would be a great indicator of how the market was recovering, and the news all-around was promising.
This was my first visit to the Farnborough Airshow, and as a first-time visitor, I was more than impressed. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this exhibition, with its highly international footfall, and the calibre of the companies exhibiting, is one of the most impressive events I’ve been to in my career to date.
The scale and the range of companies exhibiting their products and services was difficult to get my head around, as was the amount of state of the art technology on show. Having not been to one of these events before, I can’t comment on the footfall compared to previous events, but given that it was 40ºC on Monday and Tuesday, it had not kept attendees away and the aisles were awash with people.
It had been 4 years since the last Farnborough Airshow, so I guess that aviation fans were keen to get back out and see what had been developed while they’d been away.
Speaking to a number of exhibitors, it was obvious that companies who were 100% reliant on the aerospace sector had had an awful 2 years of business, but many businesses had some protection having a more diversified set of markets that they served. A couple of business owners mentioned that they’d had to make some very difficult decisions to keep their companies afloat with many contracts either being shelved or pushed back. Even with this being the case, the atmosphere and outlook were positive, and with CoVID-19 being seen as a once in a lifetime event, it was expected that the market will recover in the coming years. Although the long term impact of CoVID-19 and the potential changes to the ways of working globally is, as yet, still unknown.
The impact of CoVID-19 cannot be underestimated and figures suggest that “in 2020, aviation industry revenues totalled $328 billion, around 40 per cent of the previous year’s. In nominal terms, that’s the same as in 2000.” (McKinsey)
Given that the bounce back of business travel may not reach pre-CoVID-19 levels for a few years, we may not see the full implications of CoVID-19 to the aviation industry for a few years more. So it was interesting to see the show full of exhibitors sprawled across the exhibition halls, and that the outlook for the most part was positive.
There was a huge amount of equipment on show. The highlights for me were seeing both the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X fly. What stood out was how quiet both of these aircraft were, and seeing aircraft with a completely unobscured view from the side of the runway was a new experience for me.
Checking out the news about the event, it seems that a number of extremely large and lucrative orders for new passenger planes were confirmed at the event, with companies like Boeing and Airbus taking orders in the billions of dollars. So it would seem that international travel after CoVID-19 is expected to return to its pre-pandemic trajectory.
I spoke with the MD of FANUC UK, Tom Bouchier, and raised the question of how robotics could affect employment in the manufacturing sectors. Tom said that “…rather than reducing the opportunities for employment, robots would actually increase the requirements for skilled workers and engineers, creating higher paid jobs and more qualified engineers.” I think that this would benefit UK manufacturers and see a rise in engineering students going through higher education to fill the skills gap that would be created.
“I’ve heard it for thirty years, robots replacing jobs, but they don’t, they replace tasks. Most places grow when they go into automation,” Tom added.
The large drones at Inteliports also caught my attention when I entered the exhibition, and speaking to Peter Birley, he spoke at length about how the commercialisation of drones to provide automated logistics is going to happen sooner rather than later, and that Inteliports were at the front of the line to create the infrastructure for these drones to operate on a global scale.
The aviation sector is one that I never had any dealings with in my metal career, and I don’t pretend to be anything but a novice in this area, but the industry is clearly an early adopter of new technology and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly things like autonomous flight and large cargo drones get rolled out globally.
A day wasn’t really enough for our visit, but I’d say it’s an exciting time to be in the sector, and there was plenty of food for thought for us all.
The Farnborough International Airshow will return on 22-26 July 2024. Visit the website for information about exhibiting at or visiting the event: www.farnboroughairshow.com