Originally published by Tim Helper and Victoria Bryan in The Globe and Mail on July 8th 2016
The aerospace industry is preparing to celebrate major milestones at the Farnborough Airshow next week as Boeing turns 100 and Bombardier Inc. marks the entry into service of the new C Series jet designed to challenge the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.
The July 11-17 event, which alternates with the Paris Airshow as the industry’s premier showcase, will see new jets displayed, including the world’s most expensive warplane, the Lockheed Martin F-35, but is not expected to produce the flood of civil jetliner orders seen in previous years.
After a record multiyear sales bonanza for efficient new models, sellers remain on the road drumming up more business for the show. But analysts say many airlines are reluctant to make decisions as doubts over the economy disrupt the traditional self-confidence and big money usually displayed at such events.
“The issue is how do you as a manufacturer survive the ill winds blowing from the outside world,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice-president at Virginia-based consultants Teal Group.
Despite the uncertainties – including Britain’s shock decision last month to leave the European Union – jetmakers are expected to confirm bullish 20-year outlooks. They face some doubts over key Asian demand, though there could be surprise orders from one or two of the region’s low-cost players.
There are particularly concerns over a possible glut in wide-body aircraft later this decade, while smaller planes are still in demand and are expected to dominate orders at Farnborough.
While the latest generation of wide-body jets showcased advances in carbon-fiber airframe construction, the focus of innovation in small ones is led by the engine makers. Airbus so far leads in a fierce market battle triggered by the latest engine upgrades, but delays in engine deliveries from Pratt & Whitney have left some 25 incomplete jets stranded on the ground in Toulouse. The delays mean the A320neo will have to sit out the Farnborough Airshow and will not be parked among rival models that for the first time include the rival Boeing 737 MAX.
Compounding its woes, Airbus was struggling on the eve of the show even to obtain permission for its back-up plan to fly a pair of the hot-selling jets over the Farnborough gathering, following a tightening of formation display rules that also affects Britain’s Red Arrows.
By contrast, Boeing plans to fly its rival 737 model, but faces potentially costly economic questions over the design of the 737 MAX family, which has been outsold by the A320neo.
Airbus and Boeing generally split the market for narrowbody jets which generate most of the industry’s revenue and without which they could not afford to invest in bigger planes.
That lifeline is increasingly being challenged by new producing nations including Canada, China and Russia.
Canadian manufacturer Bombardier CSeries will go into service on Friday, as Boeing celebrates its centenary, but the plane has failed to make a dent so far in sales of the two industry giants.
Doubts are meanwhile increasing over the future of the world’s biggest jetliner, the Airbus A380, while Boeing is trying to prop up a struggling fighter jet business.