Wichita planemakers aiming high at international air show

07/13/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Wichita will be on display to Europe and the world this week when the Farnborough International Airshow opens outside London on Monday.

The Scorpion, a new tactical military plane built in Wichita by Textron AirLand, will be on display following its first flight outside the U.S.

Textron executives will meet with potential military customers.

Textron Aviation – which includes Cessna Aircraft and Beechcraft – along with Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier and some of the city’s aviation suppliers and economic development leaders will showcase Wichita’s products and services to thousands of attendees, who come from around the world.

The show, held every other year, alternates with the Paris Air Show.

Both shows are important to the international aerospace and defense industries, where civilian and military airplanes are demonstrated to potential customers.

Companies use the shows to announce new developments, products and orders. Those announcements are aimed at the aviation industry – and at the more than 1,600 members of the media who have registered for Farnborough this year.

The event, held at the Farnborough airport, is open during the week for trade visitors and to the general public on the weekend.

The 2012 show drew more than 109,000 trade visitors and 100,000 public visitors, organizers said.

Companies at the show announced orders and commitments for 758 airplanes valued at $72 billion.

Organizers say this year, they received a record number of requests to exhibit aircraft in the static and flying displays, where more than 70 aircraft will be exhibited.

The theme for the public weekend is 100 years of aviation, and the show will feature aircraft from every decade of the past century.

Boeing’s 787-9 Dreamliner and the P-8A Poseidon for the Navy, will participate for the first time in flying demonstrations.

Airbus will showcase the newest member of its commercial aircraft family – the A350 XWB.

Spirit AeroSystems builds major portions of all three airplanes.

The Scorpion

The world’s air defense leaders are getting their first look at the Scorpion multi-mission aircraft, built at Cessna’s site in southeast Wichita, at two international shows.

The plane flew 4,700 nautical miles from McConnell Air Force Base to RAF Fairford-Gloucestershire, 73 miles outside of London, to take part in The Royal International Air Tattoo, the world’s largest military show, over the weekend before flying to the Farnborough airport.

It is the plane’s first trip outside the U.S.

“We have numerous sales meetings set up for the whole duration of both shows with military VIPs from major markets around the world,” said Textron spokesman David Sylvestre. “How close we are to signing a deal, I can’t say.”

Textron is optimistic that these kinds of major international trade shows produce orders at some point, Sylvestre said.

The tactical jet was developed in secret in Wichita and announced in September. It made its maiden flight in December.

For the long trip from Wichita, the Scorpion team had been evaluating the plane’s performance at speeds up to 523 mph.

During test flights, test pilots executed a planned set of aerial maneuvers and system checks. The data was gathered and transmitted to the engineering team for analysis.

They tested the avionics, electrical and environmental systems and its high and low speed flight characteristics.

To prepare for the show, the Scorpion’s composite exterior received a new, two-tone dark gray over light gray paint scheme and it underwent modifications.

The Scorpion, a surveillance and light strike aircraft, is a joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises.

The Scorpion will be displayed with several weapons models at the show.

The plane can be configured to accommodate infrared air-to-air missiles and wing-mounted gun pods.

At the Farnborough Airshow, the Scorpion will be on display at Textron’s chalet alongside Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft AT-6 light attack turboprop, the T-6 trainer and the Special Mission King Air 350ER. It also will be next to Cessna’s Grand Caravan EX.

Textron, Cessna’s parent company, bought Beechcraft in March and is merging the two planemakers. The combined companies already have begun to exhibit together at air shows.

Promoting Wichita

Wichita economic development leaders will promote Wichita and its aviation industry, its infrastructure and more than 350 suppliers, officials said.

“We represent the community,” said Tammy Nolan, marketing director for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

The GWEDC will share exhibit space with the state of Kansas and six local aviation suppliers who have partnered with them to participate.

The state is helping with nearly half of the suppliers’ costs, Nolan said.

Participating companies include CE Machine Co., Harlow Aerostructures, HM Dunn Aerospace, Lee Aerospace, Metal Finishing Co. and Impresa Aerospace.

Competition for aviation jobs and work is steep, officials say, and other states and cities also will be at the show.

Other nations, such as Mexico, also will be there to drum up business.

“(They are), quite frankly, interested in contacting the companies that we have here today and stealing them away,” said GWEDC president Tim Chase. “In addition to a strong offense, there’s a bit of a defense to it as well.”

GWEDC officials have dozens of meetings set up with companies that have shown an interest in knowing about Kansas in general and Wichita specifically, Chase said.

“Rather than just waiting for somebody to come find us or bumping into somebody at one of these massive shows, we’re being very deliberate about finding companies that told us they want to talk to us,” he said.

Officials plan to highlight Wichita’s skilled workforce in meetings with companies.

“We have the best aviation talent in the world,” Nolan said.

Suppliers who partnered with the GWEDC to showcase products and services at the Wichita exhibit have scheduled multiple meetings with customers and potential customers.

The GWEDC was able to facilitate meetings with a major planemaker, Nolan said.

Boeing’s outlook

Boeing and Airbus have huge order backlogs for jets and have been boosting production rates.

Experts say that after a hugely successful 2013, orders this year will likely be lower.

“Compared to the last few airshows, we expect this year’s to be a bit flat,” Robert Stallard, an aviation and defense analyst with RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to investors.

There could be some orders announced at the show for narrowbody planes and perhaps some for the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A350 models, Stallard wrote.

“The (original equipment manufacturers) would probably prefer more orders for their widebodies that are looking a bit more vulnerable, like the 747-8, the A330 and the 777 ‘classic,’ ” he said.

Stallard said that rather than orders, he expects investors to be more interested in the overall outlook of the aerospace cycle.

Issues such as the cancellation of A350 orders from Emirates, high oil prices and the declining pace of orders are weighing on sentiment, Stallard wrote.

“We expect aerospace managements are likely to be wholly positive on the outlook, which may help bolster investor confidence,” he said.

Airbus highlights

Some analysts expect Airbus to launch a re-engined A330 commercial jetliner at the show. Others think it will introduce the program later this year.

A launch at Farnborough is unlikely, Stallard wrote.

“We think an A330 NEO would be a ‘cheap and cheerful’ alternative to the Boeing 787, slotting in below the range and size of the A350 for Airbus,” he wrote. “We think there (is) sufficient demand for Airbus to hit its target for 1,000 A330 neo orders.”

Air Lease Corp. founder and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy has reportedly said he expects a market for more than 1,000 units of the model.

In 2010, Airbus launched the A320 neo single-aisle airplane, upgraded with new engines. Boeing answered with the 737 MAX.

Separately, the newest member of the Airbus family of commercial airliners – the long-range A350 XWB – will make its first air show appearance at Farnborough, Airbus said.

It will take part in the flying and static display the first part of the week, while the mega Airbus A380 will be on display the entire week, the company said.

Spirit AeroSystems builds major portions of the A350.

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