Green Day at Farnborough.

15Jul08

The two alert eyes belonging to Lewis Hamilton stared intently as he listened. The press conference was hushed.

“When would you say Formula 1 will start using Biofuels?” asked the young and nervous journalist, pushing her luck. “That’s a good question!” Lewis chirped but the PR lady of host aircraft maker Bombardier was having none of it. “No questions about F1 will be answered!” she hissed. Lewis’ smile faded.

Less than two days before Fairford’s International Air Tattoo was cancelled due to Health & Safety concerns, I was at the air-show of plane-shows, Farnborough, where the aviation industry converge in a patch of Hampshire to meet its groupies.

I arrived early to wander the halls while frustrated exhibitors pleaded with their fitters to switch on dark displays before the dark suits and polished loafers of CEOs padded on to their stands. In the kitchens of company workers back home, the worries of a hard year ahead surface with partners as their large executive bosses plead for sizeable orders in a far-off field.

At the CFM stand, one might have thought instead of Chelsea: A theme of urban parks, benches and community lawns were sowed amongst sets of undercarriages and building-sized engines to power monstrous flying machines. Less impressively, tiny nuts that help secure a wing to a wheel to a fuselage sat neatly in cabinets. But weaved between the corporate messages I slowly began to realise what cheesiness was meant to be taken in here. Plane Stupid I felt!

At Pratt & Whitney they were “redefining Green” and as if answering some anonymous sceptic: “Because you see blue, we think green.”

“It’s how we think” says Bombardier’s literature, where Lewis sang the spiel about his $14m Learjet 45, loaned to ferry him around the F1 calendar “so I can be with my family by dinner time.” There were also sponsored recycling bins with “New planet, new plane” on the side.

Aviation’s Green message could not have been less disguised if they’d tried. Airbus’ ad in the free magazines ran across double pages: A worm’s-eye view of a forest canopy with the words, “A better environment inside and out.”

But as I left the ATR chalet a bit later, busily ditching some of their bulky press releases and literature in a (landfill) bin, I noticed brown water seeping between the cracks of concrete pavement slabs. Soon, twisted tissue and turds were bubbling up and running downhill towards a catering trolley left outside Dassault. The charm offensive simply didn’t wash.

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