Gary Parsons reports from ILA 2008, held at Berlin's Schönefeld Airport over 27 May - 1 June. Pictures by the author, Bob Franklin and Fred Davis
One of the foremost trade shows, Berlin's ILA 2008 looked anything but this year. It was a fine aviation event and airshow for sure, but there was something missing in the air - the manufacturers. After years of declining involvement by the aerospace companies in the flying programme, this year's event managed the sum total of one new product being demonstrated by its builder - in this case, the oft-seen Airbus A380. Otherwise, it was left to the Bundeswehr and a motley collection of historic aircraft to provide the entertainment in the skies.
So where were the new toys? F-22A, Rafale, Gripen, F/A-18E, Flanker, in fact name any new aircraft in the last ten years, and it most likely wasn't here. Boeing's civil division was absent, and even Airbus had cut back significantly - no A310, A320, A330 or A340 - strange, given its recent sales successes with the 320 and its tanker achievements with the military 330. Sure, there'd be plenty of models and videos in the vast trade halls, where business was reported as brisk, but only if you were interested in buying widgets and grommets. As aerospace companies amalgamate, the need for competition dwindles, so why go to the expense of actually bringing some real aeroplanes to look at? This trend, most noticeable at Farnborough in recent years, now seems to be the norm for the European trade shows, so why bother with a flying programme at all? It just kills the meetings with noise and shakes the sherry when the afterburners kick in. Helitech gave up with any flying displays a number of years ago, and it hasn't seemed to have dented its reputation in the industry.
Established in 1909, ILA is regarded as the world's oldest aviation trade show, and is organised jointly by the German Aerospace Industry Association (BDLI) and by Messe Berlin. At Berlin's Schönefeld Airport, ILA has been providing a wide-ranging international show for the trade and the public, with accompanying conferences, every two years since 1992, ILA 2008 being the ninth such event to be held since it re-located from Hanover. With 1,127 exhibitors from thirty-seven countries and more than three hundred aircraft, it was the biggest to date in terms of numbers, if not quality of participants.
ILA 2008 was officially opened on 27 May by Germany's Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel - among those accompanying her was Defence Minister Arakkaparambil Kurian Antony, representing this year's partner country, India, which had a large hall dedicated to Indian Aerospace in the centre of the airshow park. Heading the Indian presence in the air was the 'Sarang' helicopter team, making its European debut.
Team Leader Wing Commander Shashank Misra, a forty-two year old flying instructor with over 5,000 hours of flying experience, leads the team that was formed in 2004 and fly four Dhruv helicopters, each controlled by two pilots during the thirteen-minute show. All the members of the team are highly experienced pilots, whose other activities involve flying VIPs and rescue missions. New members have to have logged at least 500 flying hours; have experience of test flying and also a perfect safety record. Candidates are invited to join, but have to undergo exacting tests, says Shashank Misra, and all the other pilots have to agree to accept them. In Sanskrit 'Sarang' means 'peacock', which is the reason for the colourful livery of the four helicopters that make up this Indian team. The multi-purpose Dhruv ('North Star') helicopters have been developed by HAL in India and, quite apart from putting on a show, have also been successfully used for military and humanitarian missions.
Although Indian Aerospace was high-profile, other nations were more low-profile; Airbus was the only major manufacturer to announce significant orders, with KD Avia signing a declaration of intent on Thursday for the purchase of twenty-five A319 jets, the value of the order being in the region of 1.1 billion Euros. KD Avia intends to use the A319 to expand its medium-range routes. Meanwhile, the Bahrain airline, Gulfair, placed a firm order for thirty-five aircraft, consisting of fifteen A320s for regional use and twenty A330-300s for European services and to strengthen Far Eastern services. At a total value of just under five billion dollars, it was the largest order for civil aircraft ever placed at an ILA. Gulfair ordered its first A320 in 1989, and during the next five years the new and more economical aircraft will be replacing older models and helping to expand the fleet from its current total of thirty-two (including six A330-200s which have already been put into service) to fifty-five aircraft.
So far 6,139 of the successful A320 have been sold to a total of 210 customers. "We hope to deliver the 7,000th by 2013", said Chief Operating Officer, John Leahy, at the company's press conference held on Wednesday. Constant improvements are being made and this summer the aircraft will be fitted with winglets which, along with other aerodynamic refinements, will reduce fuel consumption by between four and five per cent.
An A320 has been converted to carry out the first airborne trials of a fuel cell system - the installation by French manufacturer Michelin is located in the hold and produces electricity from hydrogen and oxygen quietly and in an environmentally friendly way to supply the aircraft's instruments and its hydraulics. Although fuel cells cannot replace the engines on a commercial jet, in future it is planned that they should take the place of the traditional auxiliary power units (APU) in order to supply power on the ground, thus forming the first step in reaching the ambitious target of cutting fuel consumption, CO² emissions and the noise created by aircraft by fifty per cent by 2020. As an Advanced Testing and Research Aircraft (ATRA), the A320 is the latest addition to the German Aerospace Center research fleet and, beginning in 2009, will replace the VFW 614 ATTAS, which has been used for airborne trials for several decades.
This year Airbus expects to receive twenty additional orders for the A380 and is not anticipating any cancellations resulting from the renewed production delays. "The A380 will become a major success story, and we are fully behind Airbus", emphasised the German government's Coordinator for Aviation and Space Flight, Dr. Peter Hintze, speaking on behalf of the relevant ministers from the UK, France and Spain, who were also attending. Although the current rise in oil prices and problems with exchange rates are a cause for concern, sufficient orders have been received to permit an optimistic outlook. At the same time the governments of the countries that are partners in Airbus will do all they can on behalf of the company to ensure that, despite the pressure exerted by costs, as much of the production as possible, and above all the research and development work, will remain in Europe.
General Aviation was the only significant growth sector visible, but here at Air-Scene UK we don't really do GA, so if that's all you're after, don't read onů The problem with only one day at the airshow is packing it all in, and Berlin is different to Farnborough in that there's much more of a focus on light aviation, to the extent you could spend a day or two on that alone. Thankfully there was precious little of it in the flying display, although that did cut down on the 'burger break' opportunities.
Elsewhere ILA 2008 commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift, celebrating the efforts and achievements of the Allies during the Airlift, as well as their sacrifices. Captain Rebecca (Becky) Russo flies the bulky C-17 Globemaster 'Spirit of Berlin' of the US Air Force, and was especially moved to meet with and compare experiences with the Airlift veteran Gail Halverson. For the umpteenth time Gail Halverson relates the story of the chewing gum which he handed out to children in the vicinity of Berlin's Tempelhof airfield, and which led him to the idea of making little parachutes from handkerchiefs to carry chocolate bars, earning him worldwide fame as the 'Candy Bomber'. To mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Airlift he and other veterans were at ILA 2008 to recall their experiences. "I flew into Tempelhof two hundred and eighty times, and once to Gatow", recalls Guy Dunn, a flying instructor at the time, who was one of the crew of a C-54 Skymaster, and who still wears the badge on his cap that accompanied him six decades ago on the flights to Berlin. The C-17 is the same airframe that former US President Bill Clinton officially named the 'Spirit of Berlin' prior to the ILA 1998 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.
So it was down to the German military to fill the airshow flying programme and give it its raison d'etre - impressive airfield attacks, fighter formations and transport drops provided most of the morning's action, as hot as the week's weather, although many missed it as they were stuck in the slow and tedious security checks getting into the show. It was quite ridiculous that the gates opened at 10:00, just half an hour before the flying, yet it was a two-hour queue to get through security - better to have started the displays at midday, with a shorter programme of the more juicy items in the programme.
Berlin's Schönefeld Airport is beginning its transformation into Berlin Brandenburg International, with the northern runway already decommissioned as a new link road has cut across it and much of the south side of the airfield a massive construction site. Lufthansa's maintenance facility, where the airshow is situated, sits amidst this construction like an oasis in the desert. As the airshow had to share the remaining runway with commercial traffic throughout the day, some show items were pushed back across to the old runway for their display line, some 800 metres from the crowdline - this was far too far for the smaller items such as the Mi-24V, Bronco and Pitts team on the Friday, who were simply lost in the haze, their displays having no impact whatsoever. It was a matter of pot luck with the commercial movements, but did prove that airshows and airliner movements don't mix and should be avoided. But overall it was a good flying schedule, with a mix of old, new, fast and slow - it's just that there was nothing new to be seen. It was also somewhat galling, as an East Anglian, to see items from Coningsby, Duxford and Sywell - a long way to go to see UK regulars such as the BBMF, Catalina and Blades! What it did reinforce, however, is what a healthy display scene we have in the UK, and one everyone should work together to protect against increasing costs and petty bureaucracy.
As BBI progresses, the airshow will become more difficult to stage, and 2010 will the acid test - it's again supposed to be southside at Schönefeld, but perhaps ILA 2008 may be the last to be seen there, as a fresh venue such as an ex-military airfield would certainly provide a more sustainable answer in future if a flying display is to be maintained. Germany's answer to the International Air Tattoo is perhaps the direction the airshow should take, allied to a trade fair adjacent to the action, but sufficiently out of the way!