|Farnborough: Cementing bonds
The announcement from the Farnborough International Air Show last month was on
the first day of the business session, and it was big.
Aerojet Rocketdyne said the assembly and testing of its AR1 advanced liquid rocket
engine will be done at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss., adding about 70 jobs to
its workforce of 130 already at SSC (page 7).
But announcements like that are not the norm. Indeed, what does not get publicity
are the relationships that are developed and nurtured at the air show, which are key
to the whole process. Those are investments of time and effort that might not have
any payoff for many years to come.
Mobile, Ala., can certainly attest to that. It took a decade before its relationship with
Airbus finally resulted in the city becoming the site of an A320 assembly line.
Delegations from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi attended the July 11-
17 show, many of them were from the Gulf Coast I-10 aerospace region. They’ll tell
you the show is one of the few opportunities where they can get access to a lot of
companies and top officials at one location.
“If we traveled all over the world it would cost an enormous amount,” said Melissa
Medley, executive director of the four-state Aerospace Alliance.
There were 1,500 exhibitors from 52 countries. Across five days of the trade show -
day one closed early due to heavy rain - the show recorded over 73,000 trade visits
with about 25 percent of the visitors being either chief executive officer or director-
level. There also was a significant increase in attendance of people responsible for
procurement. On day one more than half of the visitors were from overseas, many
with pre-arranged meetings.
Delegation visits have also increased, according to the FIA, with 98 military
delegations attending from 66 countries and 29 commercial and civil delegations
attending from 22 countries.
One of the highlights of the show, both in Farnborough and in alternating years in
Paris, is the pre-show reception put on by the Aerospace Alliance. It was held the day
before the show on the River Thames.
“It also kind of serves to unofficially kick off the larger event,” said Medley.
The group, which represents Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, was
formed when Mobile was in the running to build tankers for the Air Force. That
project went to Boeing and Washington state, but the alliance remained to promote
For the past seven years the Aerospace Alliance has held receptions that averaged
300 guests, including corporate and government officials. This year NASA officials
The two-hour reception is a way to connect and renew acquaintances, and to
generate additional meetings. And the meeting is become well-known.
“When I called folks, they knew who we were, they knew what we were, they knew
about the event and wanted to be part of it,” Medley said.
“It creates and awareness,” and puts the four states in the forefront even before the
For Roger Wehner, executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, said having a
list of successes makes it easier to appeal to others.
In addition to having an Airbus plant churning out A320 series jetliners - the first one
was delivered in April 2016 - Mobile has attracted more than a dozen suppliers.
Many of the newcomers to Mobile were announced last year during the June 15-21
Paris Air Show. On the first day it was Hutchinson Aerospace, and the next day MAAS
Aviation said it would build a second paint operation in Mobile. Messier-Bugatti-Dowty
said the next day that it would open an operation at the Mobile Aeroplex.
“We have a portfolio of successes. They have served us well as we communicated
with prospective new ones,” said Wehner. “It’s kind of like a calling card.”
Others from the Gulf Coast region are also in the race to land more aerospace
operations. Rick Byars, head of economic development for Gulf Power, said
Northwest Florida had 11 representatives.
“Northwest Florida is clearly being talked about more and more,” he said, then
added, “We’re very close to finalizing a couple of deals.”
Florida’s Great Northwest coordinated the appointment-setting process, said Byars,
noting there were more than two dozen meetings with companies. Of those, “we’ve
had ongoing meetings” with 14 or 15 of them.
Shannon Ogletree, executive director of the Santa Rosa County Economic
Development Office, said it was probably the most productive overseas trade
mission. His county, home to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, is the immediate
neighbor of aerospace powerhouse Eglin Air Force Base.
He said part of the reason this show seemed particularly productive was because of
the number of people who wanted to hear “the pitch.” He said there were up to 30
meetings, and “that’s quite a bit over four days.”
Wehner, Byars, Ogletree and Medley all said they thought the show was one of the
best and most productive.
Meanwhile, competitors Boeing and Airbus spent the week adding to their backlogs,
combining for more than $60 billion in orders and commitments at list prices.
Airbus said it left the show with deals for 279 planes with a list value of $35 billion.
Boeing said it secured orders and commitments for 182 aircraft at a list value of
$26.8 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Of those orders, Airbus had 197
new firm orders worth $25 billion and Boeing 19 new firm orders listed at $3 billion.
There is a growing order gap in the single-aisle market. The A321neo and the 737
Max 9 are direct competitors. AirAsia ordered 100 A321s, but the 737 Max 9 received
Last year at the Paris show Airbus walked away with $57 billion worth of business for
a total of 421 aircraft, including 103 firm orders for the A320 series of jetliners.
At the 2014 Farnborough show, Airbus landed nearly twice as many orders and
commitments. Airbus said its orders and commitments at Farnborough for 496 planes
valued at $75 billion. Boeing secured business worth $40.2 billion for 201 planes.
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