Farnborough Returns With Hopes Of A Sustained Recovery And Aircraft Orders

Credit: Mark Wagner/Aviation Images

The 2022 Farnborough Airshow, which opens this week, will be a window into the level of confidence airlines, lessors and manufacturers have in a sustained recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

While not the first international airshow to resume since 2020—Dubai and Singapore each staged shows in November 2021 and February 2022, respectively—Farnborough marks the return of the major and historic European-based shows. The last Farnborough was in 2018 and the last Paris Airshow in June 2019, when nobody would have predicted a grounding of the global air transport industry less than a year later.

On the commercial side, the business environment remains challenging. On top of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic—which has seen the world’s airlines lose more than $200 billion—there is a war in Ukraine, high oil process, and concern about economic recession. In the UK, home of Farnborough, there’s economic and political uncertainty. The country is still dealing with its separation from the European Union, or Brexit, and now seeing a fight for leadership after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ousted as his party’s leader.

On the Farnborough airfield, however, there’s likely to be optimism and confidence … and not a few new aircraft orders.

The stakes are highest for Boeing, which has piled self-inflicted wounds on top of the pandemic impact. The US manufacturer will want to demonstrate confidence that it is on top of the design, production and delivery issues that have affected its 737 MAX, 787 and 777X programs. The 737-10, the largest of the MAX family, and the 777-9 will participate in the flying display and Boeing executives will talk up their capabilities.

Talking to ATW ahead of the show, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Stan Deal said the company will give a market outlook and that their expectation for the widebody market recovery in 2023/24 was “still intact.”

He also teased that between relaying the company’s market outlook and telling its sustainability story, he hoped “to sprinkle a few orders.”

One rumored order, if it happens, would also be significant because of the customer. Delta Air Lines is thought to be ready to announce a large order for MAX aircraft. As the only US major to have so far not bought that narrowbody, a Delta order would be a boost.

During a second-quarter financials brief last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian responded to a question about the potential for such an order by saying, “We have the opportunity in the next three to five years of delivery of some additional narrowbody, large narrowbody acquisitions, and that's something we're always talking to Airbus and Boeing about.”

For Airbus, the aim will be to stay ahead. The manufacturer had a good Dubai Airshow, announcing multiple large new aircraft orders that included narrowbodies and widebodies. Airbus leads Boeing in aircraft orders and deliveries. Its issue is finding any near-term slots for its high-in-demand A320neo family aircraft, especially the long-range A321 variant. But its A220 is also selling well and the newly launched A350F freighter is picking up orders.

The one thorn in Airbus’ show might be a customer. Qatar Airways is in a legal dispute with Airbus over paint defects affecting some of its A350s. Qatar is unusual in that it is an airline that regularly has a chalet and, therefore, a dedicated static display, at Farnborough and Paris, elevating its public position at the shows. Qatar has brought two Boeing widebodies to the show—a 787 and a 777-300—but not Airbus aircraft. There will likely be comments from Group CEO Akbar Al Baker on the status of the dispute.

Outside of the new aircraft orders tally, sustainability will be a big theme. Manufacturers will be keen to demonstrate the “greenness” and efficiency of their aircraft and engines. Restrengthening the supply chain and addressing industry labor shortages will also be recurring topics. And then there is the emergence of urban air mobility (UAM) and other new transportation technologies.

Farnborough 2022 opens as the UK endures a heatwave. A national emergency has been declared, with temperatures set to reach 41C (106F). That will also steer conversations at the show, underscoring the realities of climate change and the need for the aviation industry to further up its game in sustainability.

But what the exhibitors and visitors will most want to see is a return to normal, when on the commercial side, the talk is of growth and new deals.

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.