Reflections on Farnborough | MRO Network

Reflections on Farnborough

In his latest guest blog for MRO Network, Daniel James of law firm Stevens & Bolton looks at last month's Farnborough Air Show and what it said about commercial aviation.

The Farnborough Air Show has come and gone again, with an estimated $123.9bn worth of orders and options recorded over the five day event. FIA’s own press release breaks this down as 856 aircraft at $93.98bn, 1407 engines at $22.7bn and a variety of “other business deals” totalling £7.2bn. 

The show is being lauded as a great success and these figures are tantamount to the strength of the industry, especially in the light of the UK’s EU referendum result, global terrorism and conflict, and a general slowing of international economies.  

However despite the numbers having been reported as exceeding industry expectations, for me the show failed to take off. The weather of course did not help.Monday could only be described as a wash out and, meteorologically speaking, things really didn’t improve for the rest of the week. On the days I attended it felt much quieter than in previous years, and it didn’t seem to have the same frisson. 

Whilst Farnborough is a place do business it is also of course an air show, and this was the part that left me most disappointed. Yes, the F35 was great to finally see in flight but I recalled how in 2014 I enjoyed watching the Red Arrows display against sunny blue skies. This year, the grey skies seemed to reflect the sombre reason as to why we were not treated to the usual aerobatics from the world’s best display team.

Following the tragedy that befell 11 spectators at the Shoreham air show when a Hawker Hunter jet crashed a year ago, the CAA conducted a review of civil air displays. As a result, the CAA listed a number of “actions” concerning civil air display safety and operations ranging from risk assessment tasks and flight planning, to pilot qualifications and competence.  

This of course makes sense in light of the crash of a vintage jet, piloted by an occasional pilot where, according to the AAIB, certain manoeuvres were commenced at altitudes below those permitted. We should note that the Shoreham air show disaster marked the end of a 60 year period where there had been no public fatalities at UK civil air displays.  

The CAA (not being publicly funded) has also now increased charges payable by air shows to cover the increased regulatory regime that is now in place - air show application charges and pilot display authority fees have been doubled. Many smaller air shows may simply end and some have already been postponed or cancelled as a result. 

The Red Arrows however, being military, are not subject to the actions set out by the CAA and whilst Farnborough is a civil air show, the Red Arrows aircraft and crew would all be in compliance with the CAA’s actions. The decision not to display came from the Red Arrows themselves because of concerns about displaying over built up areas.

However, this still left a number of other aircraft, including fast jets and enormous airliners, displaying at Farnborough which posed just as much of a risk as the Red Arrows. No-one could criticise the decision not to take part as a gesture of respect towards the victims of the Shoreham disaster, but I do really hope to see the Red Arrows displaying again at the next show.

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