The Origins Of The Paris & Farnborough Airshows

The Paris and Farnborough airshows are two of the largest such events globally. These are trade fairs, exhibiting the latest aircraft and technology to potential customers. They take place on alternate years and attract civil and military participants from across the industry. After being canceled in 2021, the next Paris Airshow is due in 2023. Farnborough is scheduled for July 2022, after it moved online in 2020.

Paris Air Show Getty
Airshows give manufacturers the chance to show their new aircraft to the trade and the public. Photo: Getty Images

The Paris Airshow

The Paris Airshow is one of the oldest airshows globally, first taking place in 1909 (Germany claims the first show, holding a show in Frankfurt earlier the same year). The first Paris show took place in September and October 1909, following the success of an aviation section within the Paris Motor Show the year before. It was held in the impressive Grand Palais in the center of Paris.

This first show was hailed a success, and it became an annual event. It was not held during the First World War but resumed after 1924 switched to every two years. It was again suspended during the Second World War but continued in 1946.

Paris Airshow
The 1909 Paris Airshow at the Grand Palais. Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia

It switched to odd years in 1949 (with Farnborough later taking place in even years) and has been held every two years from 1949 to 2019. The 2021 show was canceled due to the pandemic, and it is planned to return in 2023. The show is formally known as Salon International de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace – Paris Le Bourget, or SIAE.

The location was moved to Paris-Le Bourget airport, where it remains today. Shows before this were held at the Grand Palais but also involved flying demonstrations at Paris Orly airport.

Paris Airshow
Plenty of aircraft are exhibited at each airshow (this is 2007). Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl via Wikimedia

Aircraft at Paris

As a showcase for the latest in aviation, there have obviously been many impressive displays at the shows. Visitors in 1969 could see the Boeing 747 displayed in public, with a test aircraft flying to Paris only a few months after it made its first-ever flight. Concorde also made its first flying appearance at the same show. If that’s not enough, the Apollo 8 command module was on display.

In 1971, the USSR-built Tupolev Tu-144 made its first appearance. This crashed while displaying at the 1973 show, damaging the confidence and future prospects for supersonic flight in general. Another impressive Soviet aircraft, the Antonov An-225, was displayed in 1989, carrying the Buran Space Shuttle.

There have also been plenty of first appearances of Boeing and Airbus’ aircraft. The A380, for example, flew at the 2005 show (only months after its unveiling and first flight in Toulouse). The A350-900 was shown in 2015, and the A350-1000 in 2017 – along with the Boeing 787-10 and 737 MAX 9. The 2019 show, attended by Simple Flying, included the A330neo and the A220-300.

Paris Airshow
The Simple Flying team attended the 2019 Paris Airshow. Photo: Simple Flying

Farnborough Airshow

The Farnborough International Airshow was a much later addition to the air show scene, with the first show taking place in 1948. Prior to that, there were irregular shows organized by the Society of British Aircraft constructors. These first took place in 1932 at Hendon Aerodrome and were held annually until 1936. Shows re-commenced only in 1946 and became the Farnborough show in 1948. It became bi-annual from 1962.

Before the 1970s, the show focussed on British-made aircraft. The de Havilland Comet made its first appearance at the show in 1949, followed by the Bristol Brabazon and the Vickers Viscount in 1950. In 1962, visitors could see the new Comet 4C, t7he BAC 1-11, and the Vickers VC10. Concorde made its debut in 1970 (the year after it appeared in Paris).

Farnborough Airshow
The VC10 prototype was shown at the Farnborough Airshow in 1962. Photo: TSRL via Wikimedia

The 1982 show included the Airbus A310 and the Boeing 767. The A380 first appeared in 2006. Boeing aircraft were lacking for many shows from the 1990s, but this was broken with the 787 flying in 2012. And 2018 saw the Mitsubishi MRJ (later becoming the SpaceJet) make its first airshow appearance.

Concorde Farnborough
Concorde at Farnborough Airshow in 1978. Photo: Serendigity via Wikimedia

The 2020 show was canceled during the pandemic, but an online version was held. The next show will be in July 2022, and hopefully, Simple FLying will be there.

Airshows are designed as marketplaces and showcases for manufacturers to attract customers – both civilian and military. They are also a great opportunity for the media and the public to see the latest developments. Feel free to discuss your Airshow experiences – at Paris, Farnborough, or elsewhere – in the comments.  

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