People working behind the scenes at Farnborough Airshow 2016

Aerobatics displays add to Farnborough's wow factor © Guy Westgate -

Aerobatics displays add to Farnborough's wow factor © Guy Westgate - - Credit: Archant

It’s not long to wait now until the skies come alive for the Farnborough Airshow on July 16 and 17. Promising to be bigger and better than ever, Viv Micklefield checks-in with some of those working behind the scenes

The Russian fighter, Yak-130 takes to the skies

The Russian fighter, Yak-130 takes to the skies - Credit: Archant

Airshows have been under the spotlight during the past year but there’s no denying the growing roar of excitement surrounding Farnborough in recent weeks, as this north Hampshire town prepares for one of the most important dates in the aviation calendar.

At the controls, for his fifth consecutive Farnborough Airshow, is Chief Executive Shaun Ormrod who heads-up the 40-strong team at Farnborough International Limited, the organisation behind this biennial extravaganza. Their task began practically as soon as 2014’s vapour trails disappeared although as Shaun explains, events last summer gave reason to reflect.

“When the Shoreham tragedy was announced it did make people focus on the last time that there were fatalities at a UK airshow, which was at Farnborough in 1952.

“While we’re different to other airshows in that we’re an international trade show first and foremost, people now look to us as setting best practice when it comes to improving safety, and we work very closely with the Civil Aviation Authority in developing the existing regulations.

“There will be an aerial display here this year, and whatever changes we need to make to continue our safety record, we shall do.”

And that’s welcome news not only for the tens of thousands of global visitors who flock here, but also to many in Farnborough itself, who’s pride in the event, Shaun recognises: “There’s a real sense of belonging to something. In fact, for us, Farnborough is to aerospace what Wimbledon is to tennis. Driving through all the new buildings here it’s all too easy to forget that the original Farnborough airport terminal still remains, as does the balloon shed and the wind tunnels. But Farnborough Airshow isn’t just about this legacy - it’s about the future too and about looking at what’s coming next. We put a lot of focus on space and manufacturing technology and, equally, on unmanned systems.

The Red Arrows will entertain the crowds

The Red Arrows will entertain the crowds - Credit: Archant

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“When we get to this stage in the preparations and the temporary structures are being built and activities onsite increase, the local community soon becomes aware that it’s ‘show time’ again and they’re encouraged to come along and experience everything we have to offer.”

And, although it’s essentially a week of two halves – this year’s trade exhibits for example mirror growing relationships with China, Shaun sees Futures Day which happens just before the doors are thrown open for the public weekend, as vital too. For him, it’s all about inspiring the next generation and the job opportunities on offer with the likes of Boeing, whose centenary celebrations coincide with the Airshow.

One person who’s forged a career in the industry is Sarah Harding, Farnborough’s Flight Operations Manager and a self-confessed aircraft enthusiast. With the job of ensuring that all arrivals park up in the right place, as she explains it’s a challenging time, particularly since Farnborough remains an operational airport throughout the duration of the Airshow.

“Over the week we have so many planes coming in. Some will be here for the entire time, others will only be here for part of the week, meaning there can be a lot of changeovers.

“Aircraft parking is dotted throughout the site and we have to arrange this by height working away from the runway. For the public weekend we also have the vintage aircraft to accommodate and because by then some of the trade exhibits might have left, we bring-in more aircraft to provide a varied programme.”

However, as she admits, being based in a Portakabin at the heart of the airfield brings some unrivalled benefits: “It’s quite something seeing the Airbus A380 on an approach flight past my window.”

The airshow sees displays from both rare and vintage aircraft

The airshow sees displays from both rare and vintage aircraft - Credit: Archant

The debut of the world’s largest passenger plane in 2006 is one of several ‘firsts’ clocked-up at Farnborough.

“We had to build a special pad for the 787 Dreamliner,” recalls Shaun. “It was an historic moment seeing it touch down in the UK for the first time.”

The heaviest aircraft, the Antonov AN-124 is another, and the show even produced the lowest-ever flypast, admittedly by a hovercraft.

Whether it’s a ground-breaking military fighter, the latest passenger aircraft or classic flying machines, as always at Farnborough, it’s possible to get a close-up view.

One of those hoping to recapture his childhood will be Farnborough’s new Marketing and Communications Director Andy Pearcey. “I remember my dad bringing me to this airshow when I was a kid and although there were a lot of people, I was so excited by the noise and the planes” says Andy, who confirms that for 2016 they are laying-on attractions for all ages.

“We have a family area which will be full of entertainment including face painting and street performers, and there’s the Brooklands Museum which will have the heritage planes on show.

“The Space Zone is a growing part of the Airshow, and as well as giving a glimpse of what commercial spaceflight might one day be like, we’re hoping for an appearance from British astronaut Tim Peake.”

And to make sure you don’t miss a second of the aerial magic, the daily five-hour flying display will be broadcast on the Airshow Live big screens. Running alongside this are guest interviews and competitions hosted by TV’s Anjellica Bell and Mike Underwood. And who wouldn’t want to see those acrobatic heroes, the Red Arrows? The Meet the Pilot area lets you into how they create their amazing routines, which as Shaun agrees, are guaranteed crowd pleasers.

“It’s like someone presses the pause button when they fly over. Everyone stops to look up. To be a part of making that happen sends shivers down the spine.”

Another Farnborough first

Pulses will be racing when up to five F-35, the world’s most advanced stealth fighter jet, take part in Farnborough’s flying display this July. Capable of operating from land or from aircraft carriers at sea, it’s the pinnacle of the combined technological achievements of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, the US Marine Corps and US Air Force. A full size replica will also be parked up on Saturday and Sunday.


• When: Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 July, 9.30am-5.30pm

• Where: Farnborough is well situated for both road and rail travel. There’s free car parking signposted, with a free shuttle bus service to the showground.

• How: Save £8 by buying day tickets in advance for £40 with under 16s going free. Fancy the high life then get Runway Enclosure tickets at £65 (adults) and £20 (children 2-15yrs) including grandstand or deck chair seating. Visit for online bookings and all the latest info.


Things to do in Hampshire during 2016 - Essential dates for 2016, selected by Elizabeth Kirby