Air Transport World

Farnborough report: listen to the quiet; small talk moved to center stage as major programs await more vigorous times.

There was no lack of things to talk about at this year's Farnborough Air Show, despite the downturn. It's just that very little of what was discussed could be labeled important, at least in near-term developments. All in all it was not a great show. Attendance seemed weak and airplanes were scarce--but the weather was nice.

There were, of course, Airbus updates on building the A380, awarding contracts and such as that program proceeds, and the European manufacturer celebrated delivering the first A340-600 to Virgin Atlantic. Boeing had some Sonic Cruiser design tweaks to report and new program partners to announce, but there was little change in momentum to launch that program, or a conventional alternative, or a new 747 variant.

The engine programs got an order here and there, and the GE-Pratt Alliance got a boost from FedEx on the A380, but for the most part the engine guys were quiet too.

The sole bit of completely new hardware flying at the show, and therefore the center of attention, was the Embraer 170 going through a careful daily performance befitting an aircraft still in testing. Airbus, after the Virgin A340-600 arrival on the first day, flew both its A340-500 and A318 8, the latter with the PW6000 that will undergo an MTU compressor transplant before deliveries begin in 2005, a year after the CFM56-powered version enters service. And Antonov flew its An-140 twin-turboprop.

The number of orders announced was small and the number of aircraft involved was tiny, but even had Sept. 11 not occurred, it is unlikely manufacturers would have been taking in big orders simply because the cycle peaked a few years back All those airplanes must be absorbed, now under a stretched-out delivery schedule.

Boeing Chairman Phil Condit took the stage to reaffirm his company's commitment to be less of a manufacturer and more of a consultant and systems integrator, although he promised that Boeing "will still be a significant producer of platforms."

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulaliy said the company is not yet persuaded that a business case exists for its proposed Sonic Cruiser. …

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