Farnborough 2018 – not what it appears

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For civil aviation, the relentless march of consolidation with Airbus and Boeing both having claimed their prizes in the Embraer and CSeries buyouts, has led to various claims of orders, but none of them are ground breaking or unexpected.

There have been some of this and some of that – mostly large numbers of A320neo and 738Max orders from various airlines around the world. The A350-1000 clocked up a small order, as did the A359 – but still Air Asia is sitting on the fence about the A330neo and Boeing hasn’t sold anything in the 777-X range – the A380 is likely over and done with now. A handful of 787’s were ordered, and most of the news for the week on the commercial front can be laid to rest. Even in a super-tight cargo capcity market, nobody has ordered anything new with the exception of DHL’s 14 777F’s and Volga-Dnepr Group and sister UK company CargoLogicHoldings today who announced an order for five B747-8Fs, as well as a letter of intent for a staggering 29 B777F freighters for its UK airline, Cargologicair.

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The 748F’s are going to be a slow build, and Boeing has issues. One of its biggest suppliers of a key component was on the point of pulling out – it was even rumoured Boeing was shutting the order book.

The A220 received another likely boost from the new David Neeleman start-up looking set to order 60 aircraft – but it’s widely rumoured that to get these Airbus has accepted a loss leading campaign, with these and JetBlue’s 60 unit order – 72% discount is widely being accepted as the giveaway, which is a staggering amount.

So while orders are announced, most have been on the books for ages as unattributed.

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That however is not what this Farnborough is really about. In the background the UK Defence Ministry revealed to considerable admiration its proposal for a new jet fighter to be in service by the late 2030’s. Now it really shouldn’t be beyond the UK’s capacity to do this alone – the French and the Swedes have managed it quite successfully in the past, and Brexit is going to force Britain to do things differently. One possible co-sponsor being discussed quite seriously is Saudi Arabia. Desperate for air superiority in its region, and the will to diversify it pretty minimal industrial base, the Saudi’s may well be involved. Frankly that leaves me stone cold – I’d rather go it alone than let them anywhere near it.

But elsewhere it wasn’t defence that dominated – it was infrastructure, engine efficiency and big data. Conference after conference, several debates, meetings, exhibitors, all lead to finding ways to bring costs down, use data in every way feasible – not just to profile passengers and manage the airline process, but to use data to shape the airports, engines, and ancilliaries. Not just in design, but to manage, and bring ever more necessary cost savings and efficiencies.

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Few industries are geared up – take automotive as an example – to provide seriously huge and consistent improvements. From the way something is marketed, to  improving the design process, efficiency, new forms of propulsion, manufacturing, communicating. Aviation is a driving force. Automotive simply reacts. Car manufacturers want to do as little as possible to maintain their profits, there is no burning desire to upend the gasoline driven future of automotive if they can help it. Electric cars are happening not because automotive wants it, but because disruptors like Elon Musk are forcing change.

Aviation is different. Everyone knows the only way is forward, cost reductions, amelioration, new materials, new technology, new ideas, they’re prized and innovation is the only word anyone will accept as a driving force. Aviation constantly strives to make things better – it has to, and at Farnborough, that’s what you see and feel more than anything.

Sadly the number of different aircraft types is just going to keep getting smaller. The one thing that remains inevitable is that the perfect solution in design terms is already looking like one airliner. The 787 – the A220, the A350, the 797 as it will be – they’re all looking more and more alike at the nose and in the fuselage. Logic tells you there is a perfect design, and more and more aircraft are going to look like each other.

Consolidation, homogenization, efficiency. The only question is how far will it go?

 

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