FIA Connect looks set to fill the void left by the absence of the Farnborough International Airshow as FINN editor-in-chief Alan Peaford discovers – it has many of the good bits with no queues or aching feet.

Michael O’Leary,the often-outspoken boss of Ryanair, once described us as “Aerosexuals”, obsessed as we are by aviation events, but like hundreds of thousands of others in this great industry of ours, I look forward to those big dates in the calendar – Air Show Weeks.

For many years, even-year Julys have been blocked out for one thing – the Farnborough Airshow.

I am still a relative newbie, although I haven’t missed a show in 30 years. But this year I shall be sitting in the relative calm of my house in the English countryside, feet not aching, lots of spare business cards and no preparing a line to get past the protective doctors’ receptionists on guard in the hospitality chalets.

“Heady cocktail of aviation fuel and polish”

But like those hundreds of thousands, I am missing the heady cocktail smell of aviation fuel and polish; the new ideas and new people that come along with one of the biggest networking events for the aerospace industry in the world.

And that is why I breathed an Airlander-sized sigh of relief when Farnborough International announced the first ‘virtual’ Farnborough Airshow called Farnborough Connect.

And now it is upon us.

Event will discuss biggest issues facing aerospace industry

On Monday morning at 09:00 UK time, Gareth Rogers, Farnborough’s chief executive will welcome remarks from the UK’s Business Secretary Alok Sharma and, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Like other Farnborough International Airshows in the past, this opens the way for discussion and demonstration from around the world, about the biggest issues facing the whole of the aerospace and defence industry.

We will hear from airline CEOs like Etihad’s Tony Douglas; Wizz Air’s József Váradi and AirBaltic’s Martin Gauss; Industry leaders like Guillaume Faury, CEO, Airbus; Charles Woodburn, CEO, BAE Systems; Alessandro Profumo, CEO, Leonardo; Jacqui Sutton, Chief Customer Officer, Civil Aerospace, Rolls-Royce; Victoria Foy, Executive Vice President, Safran Seats GB and Tony Wood, CEO, Meggitt and the Chairman, ADS.

Peggy Hollinger, Industry Editor of the Financial Times, will be putting them through their paces.

Sustainability and urban air mobility on the agenda

And even before we get to lunch on the first day we will be able to see the great debate about sustainability with airlines and government ministers head to head with leadership representatives from airframers, oil companies and engine makers. Still on Monday the issue of urban mobility draws the industry leaders as around the world industry and governments are conducting pilot studies and tests, rapidly maturing the potential for elevated mobility to transform the way we move goods and people locally and regionally. But what are the critical ingredients needed go from “pilot study” to “operational practice”? How to scale urban air mobility to realize the full economic and social potential of elevated mobility? And how long will it take?

For those that are fascinated by this new potential saviour of aviation as a means of transport there is a whole day on Thursday dedicated to urban – and regional – air mobility. Speakers from Boeing Next, Lilium, Urban Elevate, NASA, Embraer X, Volocopter and Ehang all tread the virtual Farnborough stage with a series of keynotes, insights and debates, With such rapid progress along with governments’ pressure to deliver, it will be fascinating.

Defence: from cyber security to Team Tempest

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Defence provides the headline acts looking at sixth generation fighter prospects with a Team Tempest panel; and an in-depth analysis of the cyber security challenges in our new-normal world. Douglas Barrie from the International Institute for Strategic Studies will lead a session that brings in government ministers from around Europe and then debates the issues with industry from Saab, BAE Systems and Leonardo.

Manufacturing also comes into the spotlight as sessions open up on issues like supply chain logistics which may be facing upheaval – and after Covid threw its curveball, what is happening about industry 4.0?

Drones have also not been forgotten with panels looking at drones for good – and how to shoot them down if they are not behaving.

Industry welcomes youngsters from all walks of life on Farnborough Friday

Even Farnborough Friday has not been forgotten. Traditionally the gates have been opened to encourage students and other young people through to find out about why aerospace and defence is such a fascinating place to spend your life.

This year, it will all kick off with an introduction from Paul Everitt, CEO, of the UK’s industry body ADS with Dr Alice Bunn, International Director at the UK Space Agency and Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Shaping the future sessions will bring in the Women in Aviation organisation, while the Royal Aeronautical Society will lead debate on black and minority ethnic engineers perspectives on aerospace and aviation.

Aiming at an even higher plane there are sessions from astronauts. Throughout it all there are ‘Spotlight’ sessions where I am fortunate enough to settle down in my armchair and talk to some fascinating people from organisations around the world. From the man leading an army of 60,000 engineers in the newly merged Raytheon Technologies, to the minister for Economic Development, Job creation & Trade in Ontario.

Throughout the week there will be various events and sessions running simultaneously from ADS and from partners like Flightglobal.

FIA Connect is free to attend

I know it has been a mammoth exercise putting all this together for the A&D world, and the most amazing thing is that it is free.

All you have to do is register, and even if you are not watching “live” you can always catch up on sessions at any time for a week or so after the show.

Can somebody let Michael O’Leary know – we might make an Aerosexual out of you yet.

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