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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 21, 2010 at 2:44 PM

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Washington state's shrinking official presence at Farnborough Air Show

Posted by Dominic Gates

Washington booth.jpg

The Washington State trade booth (right) inside one of the big exhibition halls at the Farnborough Air Show is small and decidedly unimpressive.

That was it for the state's official presence at the show.

Alabama's nearby exhibition booth had much better graphics -- that's a big Airbus tanker image on the wall (photo below) -- but is really not much bigger.

However, the Gulf Coast state's Farnborough began with a large eve-of-the-show reception put on jointly by Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi at the Orangery restaurant in Kensington Palace.

The reception was attended by a couple of U.S. Senators, including Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama's champion in Congress on the campaign to bring the Air Force tanker to Mobile, Ala.

Troy Wayman.jpg

At Alabama's exhibition booth Wednesday, Troy Wayman, (right) vice president
of economic development with the regional Chamber of Commerce in Mobile, Ala., said about 400 people attended the reception.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley took time off from dealing with the Gulf oil spill to be there, as did representatives from Airbus, EADS, Northrop Grumman, lots of aerospace suppliers and even some Boeing folks. (Boeing has a space center in Huntsville, Ala.)

The official Alabama delegation to the Air Show numbered about 45 people, including a small team from the Governor's office on a quick visit. That was half the size of last year's Alabama delegation a year ago at the Paris Air Show, as budget cuts slashed the attendance of city and county officials from around the state.

So Alabama did some belt-tightening.
Washington state had little to cut, but cut it did.

Bill King, the Dept. of Commerce official who has led a delegation of local companies to Air Shows for many years, stayed home this time. Budget cuts.

Last year, he led 10 small local companies to Paris and helped set up business meetings for them. This time, Paul Sinclair, a U.K. trade consultant who is Washington State's official trade representative for all of Europe, organized the visit of just five companies.

The Washington exhibition booth has some pamphlets, a table and three chairs set in 480 square feet of floor space. The back wall has posters with information on the five Washington state companies.

The floor space is down from 750 sq. ft. at the Paris Air Show a year ago. There, a model of the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle hung from the ceiling, the high-technology fruit of the engineering prowess and entrepreneurial spirit of a team from Bingen, Wash. that is now a part of Boeing and central to its unmanned systems division.

This year in London, there's no such hardware at the booth. One of the five visiting companies -- Composites Atlantic, which has just five employees in the state -- had set out on a shelf a small display of carbon fiber stringer cross-sections.

The company, half owned by the government of Nova Scotia and half by Airbus parent
EADS, manufactures those stringers in Canada. At least the carbon fiber raw material came from Toray in Frederickson, near Tacoma.

Still, it was all rather paltry as a showcase for one of the world's great aerospace centers.

Kevin Steck, the Composites Atlantic sales manager in Washington, noted in an interview at the show Wednesday the much larger contingent from South Carolina.

"Maybe we should be doing something on a bigger scale," Steck said of the state of Washington.

Still, the size of local government delegations and dinky exhibition booths are hardly all that matters. And expensive soirees at palaces don't necessarily win business.

After all, Washington state's presence at Farnborough was left largely in the hands of its private companies, some of which can put on a hell of a big show. (Note the departure of one impressive 787 Dreamliner on Tuesday. Now, that's Washington state!)

Alabama can't match that. Yet. They'll have to win the tanker contract first. Again.

And South Carolina will have to wait, well, at least a couple of years, before it flies a Dreamliner.

We're way ahead of those southerners. For now.

Video: In an exhibition hall at the Farnborough Air Show, the Mobile Chamber's Troy Wayman talks about what winning the Air Force aerial refueling tanker contract could do for his state.

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