July 16--THE 2014 Farnborough Air Show was meant to be dominated by the British debut of the F-35 jet fighter. As of yesterday the stealthy new combat aircraft remained on the ground in the United States, although the Pentagon has now approved its return to flight following an engine fire two weeks ago.
That means the much-awaited machine could yet arrive to close the show this weekend. Lockheed Martin's boss Marillyn Hewson is hopeful it will.
When it does make it to these shores, the F-35 will equip the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for decades to come and will fly from the recently-named Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. It has been a difficult few days for Lockheed Martin. But the lack of a showcase fighter aircraft has been a fillip for rival companies, if only because attention has focused elsewhere.
Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis, said: 'The F-35 was built up to make this Farnborough. It was going to be "the" aircraft – military-wise there is nothing else. Promises were made and expectations built up so the non-appearance has been embarrassing.'
With the world's biggest defence programme unlikely to turn up, the Hampshire show has been overwhelmingly commercial in flavour.
Arrayed alongside the runway opposite Farnborough's famous black flight test sheds, the latest airliners glitter in the sunshine, ranging from the Airbus A380 super-jumbo, A350XWB and Boeing's feted 787 Dreamliner.
Nearby sits the P-8 Poseidon, a military version of the best-selling 737 passenger jet that is designed for maritime patrol, surveillance and intelligence gathering missions.
Manufacturer Boeing is hopeful the P-8 could win a Government order to fill the maritime patrol capability lost when the Nimrod was scrapped in 2010. Britain has since been ill-equipped to find missing airliners, yachts or, perhaps crucially, protect its nuclear submarines and the soon-to-enter-service aircraft carriers.
Perhaps the hottest topic of conversation among Farnborough delegates though was the long- running nose-to-nose battle between Boeing and Airbus.
A war of words over the legality, or otherwise, of various tax incentives and government handouts continues apace, with both Boeing and Airbus claiming to be unfairly treated in comparison to their rival.
Airbus yesterday unveiled Air Asia as the launch customer for its new A330neo with 50 of the re-engined aircraft for the long haul carrier. It is a major boost for Britain'sRolls-Royce which makes the power plants.
The group's popular A320neo has also racked up more than 3,000 orders. All the wings for both aircraft are made in Britain.
Among the other announcements were the UK's bid to become Europe's leading space nation, a sector worth pounds sterling 11bn a year to the economy.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: 'Exploring the opportunities that commercial space flight presents, and potentially making strategic investments in this area, will support the growth of this thriving industry and underpin the economy of tomorrow, making the UK the place for space.'
The Government unveiled eight potential locations for Britain's first space port, including airports at Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick, Kinloss Barracks, RAF Leuchars, RAF Lossiemouth and Stornoway in Scotland, Newquay in England and Llanbedr in Wales.
Defence giant BAE Systems has not been left completely in the cold at Farnborough either.
It yesterday announced a pounds sterling 72m deal to put advanced new radars into the RAF's Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.
So far pounds sterling 58bn of orders have been announced, according to organisers ADS, surpassing 2012's total of pounds sterling 42bn for the whole week. Around 100,000 visitors are expected by the time the gates close on Sunday.
Airbus' UK boss Robin Southwell says: 'We want it to be the leading international air show. That is a challenge with Paris and every other nation wanting its own event.'
Rivals including Dubai and Singapore are keen to steal Farnborough's crown as aerospace and defence firms shift their focus to overseas exports to drive growth. But for long-term devotees, the show has lost none of its importance.
And there should be no doubt about the industry's place in the firmament of British business.
Britain boasts some 3,000 aerospace firms, employs around 110,000 staff and generates pounds sterling 27.8bn of sales last year, cementing its place as one of the country's most important industries.
Independent aerospace and defence analyst Howard Wheeldon said: 'There's nothing else really like it because it brings together a lot of international delegations, the military and commercial aerospace. It is where ideas are born.'
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