FARNBOROUGH, England – Boeing Co.’s long-anticipated 787 jet touched down on British soil Sunday, tipping its wings to the crowd and building buzz at the Farnborough International Airshow, the industry’s premier event.
The arrival of the blue-and-white 787 after years of delay underlined hopes that the two-year downturn in the aviation and defense industry is nearing a bottom. Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney claimed that the 787 would be “the way planes are going to be built for the next 80 years.”
Concerns remain about the slow global economic recovery and sharp cuts to national defense budgets.
New orders for commercial aircraft are likely to be restrained and restricted to buyers from strong emerging markets in the Middle East and Asia, while activity on the defense side of the show is expected to be muted.
Boeing and its archrival Airbus, meanwhile, head into the event facing growing challenges to their duopoly in the mid-size civilian jet market from smaller manufacturers, including Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer.
Analysts looking to Farnborough to take the pulse of the industry’s health expect the event to be more upbeat than last year’s sister show in Le Bourget outside Paris, but they aren’t holding their breath for commercial plane orders anywhere near the record-breaking $88.7 billion worth announced in Farnborough in 2008.
Boeing is hoping to retain some of the limelight with the international debut of its fuel-efficient 787.
The announcement that its first planned delivery of the aircraft – to Japan’s ANA – might be delayed by inspections and instrument changes was a setback, but the sight of one of five of the test planes landing at Farnborough on Sunday – the first time one has left U.S. airspace – was a major draw.
Scott Fancher, a Boeing vice president and general manager of the 787 program, said the company took advantage of the opportunity to conduct more flight testing.
“We’re taking every opportunity to complete our testing requirements when we fly,” Fancher said.