Up, up and away
You could say that £96bn is a nice big figure – the sort of money that can influence an economy. So, for that to be the amount of money made in one week on a single site in Farnborough is quite impressive.
That’s until you realise ETPS Road is where the Farnborough International Airshow takes place around the middle of July every two years and that the headline figure is the value of orders and commitments placed during last year’s show.
That would make less-experienced people than Paul Everitt jump up and down yelling “Ka-ching”, but he is a calm, measured person, who is used to dealing in such mind-blowing figures, like the 1,500 exhibitors from 52 countries that made it to the show, including 82 of the top 100 aerospace companies.
As well as being chairman of Farnborough International for just short of five years, Everitt is also chief executive of ADS Group, the national trade association for the UK aerospace, defence, security and space industries and the airshow’s parent company, so he is perfectly placed to sum up the sector.
“Aerospace in the UK is a success story with global growth in the sector running at between 5% and 6% per annum,” he tells me. “The large civil aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, have forward orders books stretching out for eight years and a 20-year market forecast worth something in the region of US$5.5tn (£4.3tn). It is a great business and, in the UK, we have a market share of around 15%-17%. In 2016 that was worth £32bn in terms of revenue and the overwhelming majority of that business is export.”
That may be one of the most impressive statistical narratives I’ve ever heard. A £32bn contribution to an economy, whose gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year was £471.5bn, places aerospace in a rarefied atmosphere as an essential part of economic strategy.
“The sector operates successfully in all parts of the UK, but obviously it is particularly strong around the Farnborough area and the South-East of England is the traditional home for UK aerospace, and has one big challenge and an opportunity ahead,” says Everitt. “The challenge is clearly Brexit, with a lot of concern about the uncertainty that we are likely to see over the next three to five years and we have been talking closely to the UK Government to see if it knows and understands our deep concerns.
“These are around being within the European Union regulatory regime and ensuring we have access to the skilled people we need and remain a part of the collaborative research and development activity, particularly in space and space-investment.
“We have to adapt to the changes that are coming but there is also a big opportunity with the UK Government’s commitment to an active industrial strategy. We have been working closely with it on that and investing in technology and supply chain productivity and skills – all to keep us ahead of the competition.
“Now we need to keep that going and raise the level of activity and commitment by the UK Government to ensuring that we continue this active approach to persuade companies that, irrespective of the outcome of the talks, the UK will remain an important centre for the global aerospace industry.”
So, challenges and opportunities ahead, some things we didn’t want but may be stuck with, and some that are in our control if we plan ahead and together.
At Farnborough, where the famous airshow has been based since 1948, that forward planning is about to be displayed in a very big way with the new Hall One at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre, a 12,500sq m venue at the centre of an expansion that will also include multi-purpose function rooms and restaurants, taking the entire new facility to 20,000sq m of event space. There will be conference space for up to 2,500 delegates plus additional meeting and function rooms.
Its 69-week build illustrates the pulling power of the airshow and the good health of the entire sector, and provides a stunning new facility for the South-East of England. The boss is very happy.
“It is such a huge building and our goal has always been to be open for business at the beginning of February,” he says. “The primary driver was to ensure that the airshow had world-class facilities because it is both a tremendous platform for UK businesses to demonstrate their expertise to the world, but also it brings the world to the UK.
“What that facility also does is provide us as a business with the opportunity of running other events here in this brand-new facility rather than the temporary halls, so our customers are very happy with a better quality facility all-year round.”
Even before the airshow in July, the expansion will give a vital boost to sectors across the region, with the Southern Manufacturing show being the first to use Hall One in February 2018, the Security and Policing event the following month, then “The Big One” fishing show and the National Pet Show taking their turn in the new space. The Centaur Media Home Building & Renovating show has already booked it for January 2019.
“We are absolutely linked in to the local economy, firstly because from an ADS perspective our members and customers are predominantly based in this area, so working with them on good things is always going to be a high priority for us, but also Hampshire County Council, Rushmoor Borough Council and the Enterprise M3 LEP have been tremendous supporters of the airshow throughout its time. Working with them to maximise the benefit of the show and what will come from this investment is very important.”
With such a prize to be won for the South-East of England, skills are the ticket into the competition, and on this sort of scale what Farnborough International and ADS decide to do, and who they work with, becomes of national importance. Partners include Farnborough Technical College less than a mile from the airfield, which is making its own substantial investment in equipment and facilities and is the fourth most successful in the country for 16-18 year olds. Then there is the University of Surrey, where the hugely-influential SSTL satellite company is based to add to the skills infrastructure, working alongside very focused local authorities.
The 2018 airshow will reflect the region’s high level of emerging technology by featuring Aerospace 4.0, the digital transformation that is underway to revolutionise manufacturing industries through automation and data exchange and processes. There will be a dedicated zone for exhibitors showcasing advanced digital technologies in sectors such as cloud computing, the “internet of things” and augmented reality.
“We think it is a very exciting time,” says Everitt. “Farnborough is unquestionably a great town and we have good opportunities in the businesses located in and around the town, not only in aerospace, but also with companies like BMW now based here [bringing its UK sales and financial services subsidiaries together at the former Nokia campus on Summit Avenue], we feel we are part of an exciting future.
“We are working together to create the right circumstances to maximise what is happening here and the opportunities that lie ahead. I think we still have some work to do, but there are excellent relationships here and we can all see that collaborating provides more momentum and a bigger impact.
“One of those big opportunities is ensuring that there is a globally-competitive UK supply base, with the UK Government proving advice and mentoring to help companies invest in their own technologies and generate their own innovation and bring forward new products.”
The chance for small and large companies to make an impact here is huge, with increasing cyber-security needs highlighting one area of rapid growth, boosted by the presence of the university’s Surrey Centre for Cyber Security. There is a widespread awareness in the aerospace and defence sectors about keeping ahead of the game, particularly when there are such highly-sensitive relationships being built.
But with Everitt, Farnborough and ADS showing the way, the UK’s reliance on, and pride in, this sector is understandable and secure.
Published: 03 October 2017