The 2018 edition of the International Air and Space Fair stood out as the best in its history in Chile.
Next-generation aircraft streaked across the skies over Santiago, Chile, showing off their acrobatic maneuvers and formation flying during the 20th edition of the International Air and Space Fair (FIDAE, in Spanish) that took place April 3-8, 2018. On the ground at Padahuel Air Base, north of Santiago International Airport, FIDAE visitors observed hundreds of equipment, including aircraft and other leading-edge technology on display.
Organized by the Chilean Air Force (FACh, in Spanish), the event is the most important defense and aerospace technology expo in the Americas. FIDAE 2018 welcomed 59 nations, represented by 525 government and military, and 533 corporate delegations.
In all, 138 aircraft—including helicopters, fighter, attack, and transport planes—took part in air shows and stationary exhibits attended by some 125,000 visitors. “We can safely say that FACh presented Chile and the international community with a first-rate exhibition,” General Jorge Robles Mella, commander of FACh, told Diálogo.
Although the fair exhibited new vehicles and other equipment the public rarely gets a chance to see up close, the arrival of one particular aircraft stirred great interest: the F-35 Lightning II. Two F-35 planes from the U.S. Air Force participated in the stationary exhibit at FIDAE. Another plane from the U.S. Air Force—the F-22 Raptor, which performed in the air show—was also received with great enthusiasm.
“Among the main attractions that FIDAE offers is the exhibition of cutting-edge technology, and this leading-edge technology is firmly rooted in military aviation,” FACh Colonel Jaime Reyes Lillo, executive director of FIDAE, told Diálogo. “Both the F-22 and the F-35 represent the most modern fighter planes that exist worldwide.”
The F-35 presents features of a fifth-generation fighter—the most advanced generation of fighter planes—with integrated avionics and superior logistics support. It also counts with the most powerful and complex sensors of any fighter plane. The presence of the F-35 at the fair marked a double debut: the first trip to Latin America and participation at the fair.
“As an Air Force and as a nation, the United States brought one of the most important delegations to the fair,” Gen. Robles said. “The fact that they came with the F-35 [and] the F-22 shows the confidence they have in our country.”
Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, were another focus point at FIDAE, with various demonstrations of military and civilian models in a new pavilion. International specialists met to discuss issues such as the use of drones in the armed forces and security services, in emergencies like natural disasters, and their regulation.
“Drones are no longer a fad. Today, they’re a long way from that,” Col. Reyes said. “This technology is undergoing exponential development, with practically no limit to its use.”
In addition to the preview of cutting-edge aviation technology with a variety of aircraft and avionics systems on display, FIDAE also exhibited modern telecommunications and space equipment such as satellites, space vehicles, propulsion units, and software applications. This year’s fair was also an interactive forum for participating governments and businesses to present their products and make professional contacts.
“Definitely, space technology has a greater presence at FIDAE,” Major Juan Carlos Reyes, chief of Space Operations Group at FACh, told Diálogo. “We have more exhibitors and more related themes each time, both from a defense standpoint as well as civilian applications […]. We also had quite a few conferences in the space area where we bring exhibitors in from different places to give us a view of space from different perspectives.”
Col. Reyes indicated that it is difficult to compete with European expos. He added, however, that, “if companies want to have access to centers of interest in the aerospace, defense, and security sectors in the Americas, they need to be at FIDAE. There’s no other option.”
One of a kind platform
More than an expo, FIDAE is a unique platform to exchange ideas and participate in conferences in the aerospace technology and defense sectors. FIDAE 2018 hosted 11 conferences, with topics on space challenges, aeromedical evacuations, and new challenges facing the armed forces, among other themes. These conferences enriched the knowledge of participating countries through presentations from international experts, and also strengthened bonds of friendship among nations.
“We do have a very good engagement level with the Chilean Air Force,” Colonel James Quinn, a representative from the U.S. Air Force Space Command, told Diálogo. “I think [our presence is important] for continuing and building the relationship between air forces.”
The biennial expo began in 1980 with 32 exhibitors from 13 nations under the name, International Air Show. In 1990, it changed its name to coincide with the International Space Year.
“We want this to keep growing into the future,” Gen. Robles concluded. “Communication and networks have been built up over all these years, and the idea is to keep building on them so that more exhibitors and more people come to these events, enabling us to forge more bonds of cooperation and communication around the space sector.”