Analysis: Sustainability Stats Dominate Farnborough Commercial Announcements

Credit: Mark Wagner

Providing a list book dollar value for a new airliner order? That’s so passé. 

In a show that was relatively low on new commercial aircraft orders, you’d think Airbus and Boeing might be eager to play up the value of those deals that were announced. A return to the pre-pandemic days when headlines would ricochet between “multi-billion dollar deal for Airbus” and “multi-trillion coup for Boeing” one-upmanship.

Nope. The pandemic did more than bring the entire global air transport system to a standstill (excepting cargo). It ushered in a more sober approach to airshow announcements and a keenness to emphasize the greenness of the new aircraft and engines being bought. 

Airbus and Boeing each had a handful of reasonably sized order announcements, some genuinely new and others firming of previous commitments. The Delta Air Lines’ order for 100 737 MAX-10s was undoubtedly a feather in Boeing’s cap, bringing the last of the US majors to the MAX table and providing a big vote of confidence in the yet-to-be certified -10. EasyJet’s order for 56 A320neo family aircraft was a good deal for Airbus even if it was a firming up of previous plans awaiting shareholder approval. And both manufacturers rounded out the show with last-minute order announcements, with LATAM signing for more A321neos and Qatar Airways firming an apparently lapsed MOU for 25 MAX-10s. It was definitely a good show for the -10. Let’s hope the certification program follows through.

At none of these signing ceremonies was a dollar value given. Which makes sense. List prices have always been a very loose benchmark of what the customer might have, but almost certainly did not pay, never more so than at an airshow when deals can be hammered out in a chalet conference room. And in a post-pandemic world, with the air transport industry still in recovery and most airlines steeped in debt, list price is likely meaningless.

But specific numbers were given at Farnborough beyond how many aircraft. Again and again, the press releases and executive speeches recounted the stats related to the fuel efficiency and low emissions of the aircraft.

Here’s a typical blurb taken from Boeing’s press release announcing an MOU with Azerbaijan Airlines for four more 787-8s. “The 787-8 reduces fuel use and emissions by 20-25% compared to the airplanes it replaces …The 787 family's fuel efficiency, flexibility and range have enabled carriers worldwide, like Azerbaijan Airlines, to open more than 300 new nonstop routes. Built with lightweight composite materials and powered by advanced engines, the 787 family has an airport-noise footprint that is 60% smaller than the previous generation of airplanes.”

Airbus releases had a similar theme. This from the announcement that LATAM was buying 17 more A320neos: “The A321neo is the largest member of Airbus’ A320neo family, which incorporates new generation engines and Sharklets, delivering more than 20 percent fuel and CO2 savings, as well as a 50 percent noise reduction.”

In 2022, sustainability and eco-responsibility trumps dollars, no question.

There were many other indicators throughout the show of how critical sustainability has become to aviation, not least the 40C/104F temperatures that scorched the UK this week, prompting a government national emergency declaration. 

Numerous announcements were made of cross-industry partnerships and new technology programs dedicated to making air transport a carbon net-zero industry by 2050, a huge challenge that some believe is not ambitious enough. There is finally a sense of urgency about doing something on carbon reduction rather than talking about it or leaving it to government tax penalties to steer the emissions course.

Everyone was relieved to see Farnborough return and airlines making long-term plans for future growth. A sense of normalcy was in the air and in the chalets and exhibition halls.

But the world has changed and it’s not all about the effects of the pandemic. Farnborough 2022 proved that the industry realizes its right to exist and thrive depends not on the dollar value of its orders, but on how people and goods can continue to be transported globally at minimum cost to Earth. 

For editor discussion on the Farnborough Airshow, listen to this week’s Aviation Week Network Window Seat podcast.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.