Carlos Robles
President and Head of Aerospace
AMBE Engineering
Expert Contributor

Farnborough Airshow 2022: A Preview of the Future in Aerospace

By Carlos Robles | Mon, 08/29/2022 - 09:00

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow. This was the first air show since the pandemic appeared in 2020 and it was great to meet with good colleagues, get to know new people, many companies and hold business development activities around the aerospace sector. I was happy to have the chance to meet with old friends, but also to see that companies are already beefing up business, trying to develop future programs, trying to find new suppliers, strengthening or creating business relationships, incorporating new technologies and, in many cases, assessing new operations in different locations.

Let’s face it, the pandemic was tough but the industry is already looking toward the future. As always, there are lots of takeaways from an event of such magnitude. Once there, you realize there are some new trends for the future as well as business opportunities in the traditional markets and channels, but also lots of new ideas, state-of-the-art technology and even the entry of new business models still in development.

EVTOL, Unmanned Vehicles and Drones

Usually there is news about new projects being developed for the civil, commercial and defense sectors: however, this time, I was amazed by the quantity of new projects based on new EVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) technology. I think the most common use will be intercity transportation. Think of an Uber for the skies. The technology still needs to be tested, infrastructure for landing and take-off created and my major concern would be regulations. But the quantity of prototypes was amazing, as well as the fact that capital ranges from private to big aerospace companies, but also automotive companies like Hyundai or Volkswagen are already somehow involved. Mobility is transforming to include both land and sky solutions. Certainly, the diversity of potential for use is big but I do believe the main objective will be short-range inner and intercity fights.

Drones and unmanned airships are more common now but the range of uses is also huge. Defense and surveillance seem to be a recurrent use but I saw interesting applications for agriculture, natural disaster recovery, Earth observation, and cargo.

To be honest I find it hard to believe that all the prototypes will finally come to market but many will; these will be useful and the basis for future flight-based technology.

Sustainable and Supersonic Flights

The second thing that caught my attention was the quantity of new developments focused on increasing efficiency and sustainability. Research and development are trending toward new eco fuels and electrically powered vehicles. I think a hybrid solution is closer to reality than fully electric planes. The reason is the size and efficiency of batteries, which continue to evolve but are still far from where they need to be to become usable.

It would be unfair to not mention the supersonic development of aircraft for commercial purposes. Boom is in the lead and does not seem to have many others in close competition. They were attracting lots of attention, making big announcements involving a version for defense. I am looking forward to seeing this project entering the test phase and, of course, becoming an option for airlines.

New Space

I have been writing a lot about space as the next step for the industry but I have to admit to a limited understanding of the number of players, quantity of constellations, rockets, launchers and spacecraft to be manufactured. Volumes are simply amazing, to the point where they look more like automotive processes rather than aerospace.

It is now a growing trend to have an area dedicated to space. Farnborough was not the exception. Many of the big names in the manufacturing world were present there. I was delighted to see that the area is not only bigger but it is now a place to find real business and connections. We will soon see the big OEMs and the Tier 1 suppliers increasingly coming into this market using the already existing capabilities. The space segment is advancing quickly and drastically lowering costs, becoming more accessible and transforming from a big potential industry to a real market in need of all kinds of players, manufacturers, investors, and services. The ship only sails once and we need to take the opportunity to be on board.

Regionalization: The Mexican Opportunity

I had the chance to confirm the fact that reshoring and nearshoring are really coming. I was close to FEMIA’s booth and it was amazing how many people were interested in having some operations in the country, attracting new suppliers from Mexico, or establishing new operations here. Just to give you an idea, after a few weeks, we have already had some meetings with potential companies interested in one or many of those topics. It is also important to note that not only aviation but also space companies are interested.

Certainly, it is time to highlight our capabilities. It was great seeing a Mexican booth with states such as Queretaro, Baja California, Aguascalientes, Yucatan, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, and Chihuahua promoting aerospace in Mexico. The FAMEX president was present as well to successfully promote the Mexican fair in April 2023. We are part of the biggest aerospace market by geography but we also need to demonstrate how we can integrate operations and develop our capacity to collaborate within the region.

Certainly, it was good to be back. Now, it is time to assess all the opportunities, bring home all the results and follow up on all those meetings and networks developed. I do think the future is bright for the aerospace sector in Mexico, whether it's in commercial and civil aviation or in space. I firmly believe that the moment to invest in Mexico is now. Whether you're a foreign company wanting to explore and increase operations in the country or a national company in another sector like automotive, this is the chance to take the leap and diversify into the aerospace sector. Trust me, volumes for space products are going to be a big opportunity for high volume, low-cost manufacturing processes. You can quote me: Big things are coming for the Mexican aerospace sector. Do not think about borders, think about collaboration within regions instead. Do not think that sky’s the limit; it is, in fact, the starting point. And space … well, space is as infinite as the opportunity to be part of it.

Photo by:   Carlos Robles