Cleared for take off

A fast jet, screaming low across the sky, delivers a unique visceral thrill. The noise the lethally sleek machine makes as it devours the air through which it flies, compresses it, blends it at enormous pressure with Jet A1. It ignites the resultant mix to produce supersonic thrust provides all the evidence we need that primeval slime can, and has, evolved.

This week’s biennial Farnborough Air Show is a global event that showcases a sector worth, before the referendum, £52bn a year.

Aerospace is the fifth-largest industry in the UK. It directly and indirectly employs 340,000 people and in 2014 orders taken at the Show by companies from all over the world were valued at £157bn.

“Farnborough is a global shop window for the UK and Europe, for the entire world,” Shaun Omerod, chief executive of Farnborough International told the BBC. “It connects UK small and medium-sized companies – who ordinarily wouldn’t get this access – to the global market. He added: “Farnborough is one of the very few international trade events which is left on UK soil.”

To be successful and effective, Farnborough requires three strong supports: a robust national manufacturing presence, a powerful communications capability capable of delivering precisely targeted content to government, finance and the global industry and an unimpeachable professional status based on rigorous scientific and engineering integrity.

This is exactly what we have and it works like a Swiss clock.

The UK manufacturing presence is robust – and global. Agusta Westland is Italian. BAE is headquartered in the UK and listed on the London Stock Exchange. It is also, to all intents and purposes, an American company. Airbus is a European consortium and the wings for all of its civilian products, including the A380, are made in the UK. Rolls-Royce PLC is wholly British (not to be confused with the German-owned car company) and is the world’s second largest jet engine manufacturer.

Until 24th June this year it is fair to says that the future for the sector in the UK looked unassailable and assured.

The aerospace industry communicates with government via ADS, the sector’s trade body which wholly owns Farnborough International Limited, the show organiser. The content and substance of ADS communications is extremely effective and cannot be fairly faulted. Aerospace has a high profile as a result of consistently professional PR.

The keeper of the flame that illuminates professional integrity behind the industry is the Royal Aeronautical Society, 150 years old this year. It is the world’s only specialised body dedicated to the aerospace community. RAeS exists to “…further the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering around the world.” Through peer discussions, close and enduring academic liaison, and professional accreditation the Society keeps the sector on the straight and narrow, something that engineers do by instinct and men of commerce often avoid for the same reason.

Sir Sydney Camm, engineer and designer of the WW2 Hurricane, Cold War Hunter and Falklands hero Harrier among others, once said of the TSR-2 aircraft cancelled by the then-government: “All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR-2 got just the first three right.”

One has to wonder what the future holds for the UK element of this hugely successful global industry. How will it fare without existing free trade agreements, all of which are now, terrible pun absolutely intended, up in the air right now?

The simple answer is that the industry as a whole, and especially all the companies and bodies mentioned above, must communicate as never before. The content of their united message is simple: irrespective of the referendum result, and the weather, the show (literally and metaphorically) must go on.