The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

But Can They Market?


MiG AT on take-off

Farnborough, September 6 -- One of the most visible groups at the Farnborough Air Show is the Russian contingent. Conducting press conferences, exhibiting wares in the exhibition halls, distributing literature and entertaining in their Farnborough chalets, the Russians certainly seem intent on conducting business. The question is, can they learn how to do so with the West?

MiG MAPO (Moscow Aircraft Production Organization) held a press conference today to tout the company and their wares. Formed by Presidential proclamation in January of this year, MiG MAPO instantly became the largest aviation consortium in Russia. The firm combines more than 20 companies, with leading military aviation products like the MiG 29 fighter, Ka-50 attack helicopter, the MiG AT trainer, and the upcoming MiG 1.42 fighter
[ see related story].

The KA-50, a product of Kamov, has two rotors powered in opposing rotations and is the only co-axial rotor design flying. The MiG 29 is one of the most capable production fighters in the world, recently upgraded in both control and arms areas. The MiG AT trainer is capable of replicating flight characteristics of virtually any of the world's jet fighters, and the MiG 1.42 may have capabilities unmatched by Western jets for a few years.

The roots of MiG MAPO go back to 1893 and one member company is the successor to the original Sikorsky plant in St. Petersburg.

MiG MAPO put on a full court press for the world's aerospace media, complete with video presentation on two monitors and introductions of more than 10 senior executives representing member companies. Senior members of the companies producing MiG aircraft and Kamov helicopters were part of the presentation team.

On each chair was a colorful plastic shopping bag containing full-color brochures and photographs. A Russian photographer continuously circled the crowd and presenters, taking picture after picture, taping video clip after video clip. During Cold War days more than a few in the audience would have felt uncomfortable with their faces in the viewfinder.

But this is 1996, and the Farnborough Air Show is where the aerospace industry gathers to conduct business. Where three years ago at the Paris Air Show most attendees couldn't understand the Russian's English language brochures, today they were in flawless business vernacular.

This year, at the end of the press conference members of the entourage freely answered questions they would have brushed off a few years ago.

Similarly, Sukhoi and Rosvoorouzhenie, the Russian state corporation for selling military goods, held a press conference yesterday. They trooped out their by now almost-celebrity pilot, Yevgeny Frolov, and talked about his remarkable Su-37 aircraft. They also invited questions and were available to talk about various programs [see related story]. The Rosvoorouzhenie media representative spoke excellent English and was very polished.

But here is where the Western emulation ends. Tupolev, the giant aircraft manufacturer in the AviaExport group, didn't have a clue as to how to handle Western media [see yesterday's story]. And even Sukhoi, absent their media handler, simply crossed their arms signalling they were closed for business, when Westerners approached their chalet during the afternoon. Russian visitors, however, were at least greeted by an open door.

Sukhoi also ran out of literature on their most popular products, like the Su-37, and despite noble attempts by a Rosvoorouzhenie media specialist, were unable to supply any more. (Although the media specialist was able to produce a delightful packet of material, presumably from his private collection.)

In the exhibit halls, visitors to Russian exhibits were greeted with boredom, if at all, regardless of company or country. (Of course, this was also true in other former Communist bloc country exhibits such as Romania.) As one visitor from a large U.S. aerospace company stood in the Tupolev chalet trying desparately to get someone's attention, anyone's attention, it was obvious that it will take a bit more for the Russians to conduct business with the West. It will take a cultural shift. But that's something for which they should have gained plenty of practice in the last few years.

As one of the Russian's wryly observed during today's MiG MAPO press conference, "It is not for words to discover the truth. It is for experience." Time will tell.


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