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Delivering the world's largest trade fair - Farnborough International Airshow

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On the evening of the 22nd March 2011, APM East of England Branch had a superb presentation from the executive team of Farnborough International Ltd led (FIL) by Operations Director Graham Jones. Ably supported by Andy Coulson and Jonathan Smith, Graham gave us a unique insight into how organising Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) the worlds most iconic aviation show is project and event management in spades.

Whether it is the greatest might be debatable, but its sheer size is not. The event is staggering; everything is measured in thousands, millions or billions: $60BN of trade sales; 24M to erect a temporary structure of hundreds of thousands of square feet and 2000 HGVs on the site at any one time. Even when figures dropped into the hundreds such as the management of some 800 contractors, the scale is still way outside normal project management bounds.

It quickly became apparent that soft skills like team work and communication were important. Throughout the 2 year project cycle, and particularly during the build up phase, the focus was on building good relationships. FIL aimed at the creation of an environment, where each partner could be trusted to execute their element of the plan without supervision or too much oversight. Contractor selection was vital and whilst value for money was important, trusted competence and being able to go the extra mile determined the outcome. We heard how the core team of 21 expanded to 15,000 during the run up phase. Was stakeholder management a key issue? Of course! With a diverse range of stakeholders including local residents, exhibitors, blue-light services, contractors, local government and air cadets, briefings, meetings, emails, website interaction and face to face meetings were frequent and exercises were held regularly. What was being forged was a team with a common goal.

That goal was to open - come hell and high water (or heavy rain) - on day one! With the date set 2 years in advance and high expectations from the exhibitors; the trade visitors and general public, slippage was not an option. The exhibitors display erectors in particular had to recognise that and deliver.

With the aid of video clips of air displays we were told of the intricacies of the organisation of an air and static display for 150 aircraft ranging in size from the jumbo Airbus A380 to a one-man microlight. Of how safety was paramount and the proximity of London Heathrow caused problems for the Red Arrows. We heard of one amusing mishap, when a very large military bomber executed a perfect low-level fly-past impressing neither the Farnborough crowd who couldnt see the plane nor the residents of Blackbush - the light airfield 5 miles away where the flypast took place - who thought war had broken out! Perhaps not a typical project mishap!

All the key elements of project management, with all the thrills and spills, were there. Most recognised the classic 4 phases: the pre-event (definition and concept), the build up (planning), the show period (implementation) and the handover (derig and return the site to the owners). The schedule we were told contained 800 major lines, one line alone was entitled Erect Hall 1 which in itself contained many thousands of sub-line entries. We heard about how the regulatory issues of Heath and Safety and Constructions, Design and Manufacturing (CDM) were brought to the fore when the diverse language and custom barriers of the international exhibitors and trade visitor community kicked in.

In summing up Graham asked whether, given that FIA is a long running event, were there still any challenges left - oh yes!

Weather Its difficult to plan for and during the build up and on the days being too hot or too cold can play havoc with plans and schedules.

Temporary Site something that few event managers handle. After each event the site is returned to normal commercial airfield operations within 5 days.

Avoiding Complacency - post project evaluations are still held and lessons still learned; changing circumstances and new technology always tease out a couple of improvements for next time.

Question time came in a blink of the eye and, covered attendance, security, liability and next years clash with the Olympics. The Olympic Organising Team had visited FIA recently to - in their words - hear from the experts in international event management. Well after last night I know they got some good advice.

Our thanks go to the FIL team of Graham, Andy and John for the presentation and to Richard Daniel, Helen Sweeney and Lisa Dudson at Raytheon UK in Harlow, Essex for providing the venue and playing hosts.

Did the 37 APM members who attended enjoy it? The fact that pre-event networking had to be curtailed, the delicious spread was demolished and Chairman Charles had to call time on the questions was proof enough.

This slides are available to download below.



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