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COVID-19 Kills The Farnborough Airshow By Julian Nettlefold




Farnborough Airfield has been home to the Farnborough Airshow since 1948, when it opened its gates to the public for the first time. The organisers of Farnborough Airshow 2020, which was due to take place this July, have responded to the outbreak of coronavirus. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak the 2020 Farnborough International Airshow has been cancelled.

Farnborough International issued the following statement regarding cancellation of Farnborough 2020.

‘It is with great regret that we announce the Farnborough International Airshow 2020, due to take place in July, is cancelled. After very careful consideration, the unprecedented impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic has forced this decision in the interests of the health and safety of our exhibitors, visitors, contractors and staff. This decision was reached taking into consideration several major factors surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19, all of which we have concluded, make it impossible for us to create and host the Airshow this July.

We understand this news will be an incredible disappointment to all across the international aerospace industry, not to mention our important exhibitors, suppliers and visitors. We at Farnborough International share your disappointment that we are unable to present the Airshow as planned, but rest assured, we are determined to continue to work together and will ensure the Farnborough International Airshow returns in 2022 better than ever.’

Force Majeure Clause For Refunds

BATTLESPACE understands that rather than honour its commitments to its loyal band of exhibitors who have supported the Airshow, many since its inception in 1948, Farnborough International (FI) , a wholly owned subsidiary of ADS the aerospace and defence trade body, has decided, using a Force Majeure Clause in the contract that it is looking at refunding the deposits paid by industry, many of them SME’s struggling in today’s climate.

John Taylor, Managing Director of Beagle Technology Group, whose strident views have been well broadcast and supported on LinkedIn, confirmed to BATTTLESPACE today that his company had commenced legal proceedings against Farnborough International. Farnborough International would not comment on how many companies had commenced proceedings.

Unconfirmed sources suggest that industry heavyweights BAE Systems, Airbus and Thales have expressed extreme concern and displeasure at this news.

Farnborough is the oldest active airfield in the UK. In 1905 the British Army’s Balloon School was formed here. In World War 1 a number of RFC and RNAS aircraft, airship, and balloon squadrons were based here. The site has been associated with aircraft and airships since 1908 when the Balloon Equipment Store was moved from Greenwich and renamed the HM Balloon Factory. In 1908 the first powered flight in Great Britain was made at Farnborough, by a man called Cowboy Cody. Cowboy Cody is recorded as having flown just over 304 metre (1000 feet) at 20 miles per hour (32km per hour).

Does Farnborough have the reserves to pay back these deposits? The Editor asked FI what would happen if an exhibitor took FI to Court and the company was unable to repay the deposit with an accompanying Court Order; the spokesperson did not reply.

Merger of The DMA and the SBAC

A source close to BATTLESPACE said that the problems for FI may go back as far back as the merger of The DMA and the SBAC, a move which was frowned on in certain areas given the differing cultures of the two organisations.

The SBAC was a bidder for the DSEI show but was beaten to the draw by Spearhead which agreed to put its BSI and IMDEX shows into the pot to ensure it won the contract. As we know, DSEI is now part of the Clarion empire.

When the merger took place there was believed to be an immediate pension deficit on the SBAC side which was made worse by the washout 2012 year where the public stayed away in droves causing a huge drop in revenue and the disastrous Farnborough 2016 show which was a total washout with Hall One flooded out completely. To make up for the drop in revenue, severe job cuts were initiated at ADS.

To ensure that future shows had better facilities to ensure that the flooding problem did not cause such disruption in the future, this inspired the need for better standing accommodation. The first task was to build the standing Row ‘A’ Chalets followed by the brand spanking new Hall 1 which opened in 2019, for which FI is reported to have raised a reported £34 million from four backers which are believed to include banks and Rushmoor Borough Council.  Security & Policing, Farnborough and other ADS events are held in Hall 1. The terms for interest payments on these loans are unknown.

Hawker Hunter T7 crash at the 2015 Shoreham

The horrendous Hawker Hunter T7 crash at the 2015 Shoreham Air Show which killed eleven people and injuring seventeen which, quite rightly, brought in stringent new laws for flying over built up areas. Given the huge growth of businesses around the airfield and increased traffic, the new rules put huge restrictions on any flying activity during Farnborough which of course lessened any interest on the public days from the huge amount of aircraft enthusiasts and plane spotters.

RIAT has for years been seen as a better venue for flying and entertaining than Farnborough, albeit it as a military Airshow, with little civil content. We understand that RIAT has refunded all deposits for RIAT 2020. Given its position in open country at Fairford, Glos, RIAT has a lot more flexibility when it comes to flying.

The Future

There has been a debate for years as to whether Europe can afford to hold an Airshow every year, it looks like coronavirus has solved that problem with the UK being the loser just at a time of Brexit when it needs its own UK aviation industry showcase. Sadly, it looks very much, given all these problems that Farnborough 2018 may have been the last ever Farnborough Airshow. It will be interesting to see the follow-on implications for ADS which itself may have to cut its cloth accordingly.

From a personal point of view, the Editor has always viewed Farnborough as a ‘jobs for the boys event,’ which survived when the aviation industry had surplus funds to invest in such a bi-annual junket. But as Warren Buffet said, “When the tide goes out, we will see who is naked.”

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