Mon, Jul 14, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Aerospace festival visitors fret over F-35 availability

Reuters, LONDON

Suspense over the appearance of the US’ newest combat jet, a diplomatic chill between the West and Russia and the relaunch of an Airbus jet with a surprise tweak in its name could make the Farnborough Airshow one of the least predictable for years.

While the world’s largest aerospace event is traditionally a cauldron for new technology and dazzling flying displays, technical problems forced the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to withdraw from a warm-up event, and Farnborough’s aircraft list is already crossed through with several high-profile no-shows.

The gathering — to start today and conclude on Sunday — will go ahead without the brand-new Bombardier C Series or popular Russian fighter displays. Qatar Airways has withdrawn its Airbus A-380 superjumbo, saying the plane is not yet ready.

At the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in England from Friday till yesterday, visitors were disappointed after Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet failed to make the military air show.

An engine fire has triggered a fleetwide grounding of the Pentagon’s newest warplane — and the world’s single most expensive weapons program — but officials are still hoping the stealth fighter will be cleared to fly at Farnborough.

RIAT visitors drawn by posters making it one of the most anticipated aviation events had to settle for a “stress ball” shaped like an F-35, but saw a dazzling display of other planes.

“It was the main reason for us to come here — to see the F-35; it is a big disappointment,” said Jan Corstjens, a retired Dutch pharmaceutical executive with a private pilot’s license.

The US Navy said on Friday it was not yet ready to lift the flying ban on F-35B and F-35C models.

Tensions over the crisis in Ukraine have also depleted this year’s Farnborough show, with Russia adopting a scaled-down presence, focusing on civil displays and the space industry.

“It’s obvious that because of tensions with Western governments over differences between Russia and Ukraine, the military presence is really scaled down at this year’s Farnborough,” said Alexander Velovich, sales representative at the Farnborough Airshow.

Many Russian visitors have struggled to get British visas, and on Friday more than 100 of the expected 450 delegates were yet to receive clearance, Velovich said.

Few will be able to forget that the air show is also taking place under the shadow of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The reasons for the jet’s disappearance remain a mystery, but the fruitless international search could fuel interest in tracking technology and more maritime surveillance aircraft, with US and European models on display as Britain ponders whether to replace its recently scrapped Nimrod aircraft.

The aerospace industry is itching for Britain to open bids for a replacement after canceling the delayed BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 in 2010, but British Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond has suggested it might study a more complex solution including unmanned vehicles rather than a quick plane order.

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