But amid the roar of A321 narrowbody aircraft and 777 long-range jets, talk was of data.
Aircraft data — which remain widely unexplored — are generating a wave of excitement across the aviation industries.
This represents a huge potential opportunity for aerospace workers and executives to revolutionize aspects of aircraft production and travel.
Aircraft manufactures have spoken of the possibilities of predictive maintenance, and huge potential cost savings. Airbus boasts that its A380 superjumbo collects information on more than 200,000 aspects of its flights alone.
“Big data is becoming crucial in maintenance and overhaul, as well as in lean manufacturing, logistics, marketing and finance,” says Dr Christophe Bénaroya, director of the Aerospace MBA at France’s Toulouse Business School. “It cannot be considered as an external ingredient anymore.”
SAP, the software company, estimates the cost of keeping a commercial passenger jet grounded for maintenance can cost up to $10,000 an hour. Reducing downtime with efficient maintenance schedules, driven by analytics, could bring big financial savings.
Yet concerns have been aired that there may be a shortage of skilled employees to transmit big data into solutions for businesses.
“Apart from the general shortage of people with skills in analytics, there is specifically a shortage of team leaders,” says Arne Strauss, associate professor of operational research at Warwick Business School.
A number of business schools are flying into the aerospace industry to satisfy demand for talent.
Toulouse and the Indian Institute of Management — Bangalore run a two-year program sponsored by Airbus, Europe’s biggest aircraft maker. HEC Paris, the French business school, runs an aviation specialization. And Canada's HEC Montréal recently launched an aerospace-focused MBA.
S Raghunath, a professor at IIM Bangalore, says there is room for improvement in how the industry utilizes its data. “But companies are reacting,” he says.
The likes of Boeing are attracted to the potential to expand further into systems integration and services. The trend will surge as demand for data grows.
There is also the potential for the use of data to track fuel consumption and to help pilots to avoid turbulence or bad weather.
“There is no question that big data applications have provided significant benefits,” says Richard Bloom, chief academic officer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
But he also points out that data applications in industries focused on threat, vulnerability, and risk assessment have yielded underwhelming results.
“There are opportunities. But benefits will accrue only with careful forethought,” he says.