Paris Air Show 2005: This year's show set records for both attendance and number of sales logged

 - October 9, 2006, 10:06 AM

First the good news, or at least the news that most people in the international aerospace and defense industry can agree on. Last month’s 46th Paris Air Show was the most dynamic and commercially upbeat gathering of the global business since the June 2001 show, which had been staged in what now seem like halcyon days just before 9/11 and the still-unfolding torment of what has followed.

But there is no dodging the fact that the lingering political recriminations from the response to 9/11 were all too evident in Paris, too. For much of the past two decades, Boeing and Airbus have paraded their rivalry somewhat melodramatically on the international airshow circuit. This time they squared up to each other with the prospect of World Trade Organization (WTO) hearings about the legality of state support for their respective airliner programs.

Though few dared utter such concerns aloud, several industry executives privately told AIN that a failure to settle this rancorous transatlantic dispute will be bad news for the numerous manufacturers and systems suppliers who ply their trade on both sides of the Pond.

At first glance, Airbus appeared to be trying to avert confrontation in Paris when it deferred long-trailed plans to launch the new A350 twinjet at the show. After several days of dodging the issue, the European consortium finally admitted that it wanted to allow time for the WTO dispute to be settled through compromise rather than flaunting a further tranche of government loans in Boeing’s face.

But then, acting Airbus CEO Noel Forgéard (who is also co-chief executive of the airframer’s main shareholder, EADS) declared that: a) Airbus will launch the A350 by the end of September regardless of whether a compromise has been reached and b) the company in fact can afford to do so without government money.

The September time frame is far from accidental, because the U.S. government’s nominal commitment to stay within the terms of the existing 1992 agreement over state support for the aerospace industry expires on October 5. So Airbus’s signal to Washington was that it is already prepared to defy the Bush Administration by engaging Boeing once again with the launch of a state-backed direct rival to the 787 Dreamliner.

Nonetheless, the political ill-will over future programs did little to dampen the genuine excitement caused by the arrival of this year’s model, the A380. The double-decker widebody arrived at Le Bourget Airport from its Toulouse base on the eve of the event, bringing show setup work to a standstill. Yes, it’s as big as all the hype has led you to expect, but it also seemed extraordinarily quiet–not least because its arrival came between practice sorties by the show’s much louder warplane contingent.

Boeing also contributed novelty to the proceedings with its new long-range 777-200LR airliner and KC-767A military tanker. Also making full international debuts at this year’s Paris show were Embraer’s 108-seat 195 regional jet, Dassault’s Falcon 7X business jet and Alenia’s M346 jet trainer. Gulfstream’s G550 and G450 both made Paris show debuts.

The 2005 Paris Air Show was for all intents and purposes a sell-out. According to the event’s commissioner general, Louis Le Portz, 1,924 exhibitors (11 percent up on the 2003 total) from 42 countries flocked to Le Bourget, occupying an enlarged show site consisting of almost 560,000 sq ft of exhibit hall and 393,000 sq ft of static display area. No fewer than 238 aircraft were on show–18 percent more than the 202 models displayed in 2003, when U.S. representation at the show was significantly diminished by a U.S. government boycott of the event.

Ahead of a fully audited assessment of visitors, Paris show organizers announced that more than 480,000 people passed through the Le Bourget gates during the seven days of the event (of which the final three were public days). This is up from just 300,000 in 2003 and well ahead of the previous record of 431,000 in 2001.

The Americans were definitely back in force at this year’s Paris salon–and so were the big bucks. Estimating the value of business announced during airshows is a precarious exercise, not least because of ambiguities over what constitutes the actual price paid and what constitutes a firm order, as opposed to an option or some other level of commercial commitment. However, even a fairly conservative reckoning of the Le Bourget sales ledger suggests that contracts collectively worth significantly more than $50 billion were signed during the show.

For what it’s worth, the previous Paris Air Show record for announced orders was set in 2001 with a total of $44 billion. By comparison, the 2004 Farnborough International airshow was said to have generated $20 billion in contracts.

Qatar Airways staked its claim to being the airframers’ new sugar-daddy when it unveiled deals covering 60 A350s and twenty 777s. The carrier also signed a deal with Lufthansa Technik (LHT) covering engine support and installation of live tv systems. LHT itself forged a new A380 maintenance joint venture with Air France Industries on the eve of the show.

Significantly, the new orders came from several different regions of the world, suggesting that the long-awaited air transport industry resurgence could be more widespread than previously supposed. Importantly, most of the really high-value deals emanated from the Middle East and India, both of which clearly are now ascendant markets.

Airbus alone announced $33.5 billion worth of deals for 280 airliners, and said that this figure did not include “undisclosed orders and commitments” for an additional 40 aircraft. Strengthening the momentum for the A350 program, Air Europa and America West/US Airways also placed orders, for 10 and 20 aircraft, respectively, raising total commitments for the type to 125 aircraft.

Fast-growing Indian carrier Kingfisher Airways became a new customer for the A380, ordering five copies of the new super-large airliner, along with five A350s and a further five A330s (from which the A350 is derived). Other deals announced by Airbus at Le Bourget included: ABC Aerolineas of Mexico (10 A320s); German Wings (18 A319s); IndiGo (100 A320s); Air Cairo (six A318s); TAM of Brazil (20 A320s); ALAFCO (12 A350s); India’s Jet Airways (10 A330s); and Air Caraïbes (two A330s).

Additionally, a Saudi Arabian private business became the first VIP/corporate customer for the A340-600. The world’s longest airliner will be given an executive interior by a still-to-be-selected completions center before it is delivered by the end of next year. The aircraft is to be operated by Jeddah-based National Air Services, a NetJets operating partner in the Middle East that already flies a number of Airbus Corporate Jetliners.

Boeing, which repeatedly insists that it does not stockpile order announcements to make a big splash at airshows, concluded $15.2 billion worth of business in Paris, according to the show organizers.

Apart from the Qatar order, the U.S. airframer also harvested an abundant crop of contracts for the narrowbody, new-generation 737 range: 20 each from GE Capital Aviation Services and International Lease Finance (ILFC); 10 from Jet Airways; up to 30 from Air Europa; and 35 from Alaska Airways (plus options for another 15, and “purchase rights” for a further 50). ILFC also ordered a pair of 777-200ERs and six -300ERs. Similarly, Jet Airways’ show transaction with Boeing also included a letter of intent for half a dozen copies of the new globe-girdling 777-200LR and four -300ERs.

That regional aircraft manufacturers also shared in the industry’s renewed prosperity was evidenced by a flurry of Paris show orders. Both Embraer and Avions de Transport Regional logged substantial new business for their respective jet and twin turboprop lines.

As a timely reminder that airliner orders feed new business right down the aerospace food chain, engine-making group CFM International announced that the Paris show had yielded orders for as many as 218 CFM56 turbofans with a combined value of $1.3 billion. At press time, the value of new business from the other main engine makers had not been calculated.

Finally, in one of the less heralded items of news from the Paris show, Japanese and French aerospace industry groups quietly signed an accord to jointly study a next-generation supersonic transport. The agreement, which specifically mentions a Concorde successor, covers three years of combined research effort.

The private sector will collectively invest around $2 million per year in the research, with the Japanese government providing just over another $1 million. Japanese participants include the Japan Aircraft Development Corp., the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the heavy industries divisions of the Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Fuji and Ishikawajima-Harima groups. EADS and Safran are the main French players.

BUSINESS AVIATION NEWS

Business aviation accounted for one of the 2005 Paris Air Show’s few genuine surprises. Without any warning–or even scuttlebutt–Germany’s Grob and a group of Swiss investors unveiled the all-composite Grob SPn Utility Jet. The first prototype graced the Le Bourget static display, and the jet is due to make its first flight within just a few weeks.

But this bolt-from-the-blue certainly didn’t take the gloss off corporate aviation’s star of the show: the Falcon 7X. The world’s first fly-by-wire purpose-built business jet touched down at Le Bourget barely five weeks after its May 5 first flight, having logged 45 hours of its certification program. Although it is so far the only flying prototype, the aircraft on display at Paris was presented smartly in white with swirling red, orange and blue ribbons. A second test aircraft will join the certification campaign this month.

Dassault also brought a 7X cabin mock-up to the Le Bourget static display. But most of the talk was of the degree to which the flight-control computers and the EASy avionics suite have reduced pilot workload. As of the show’s opening day, the French manufacturer had received orders for 55 copies of the $37 million trijet, and the next available delivery slot is in 2009.

Aerion made the trip to Paris to fan further interest in its proposed supersonic business jet program. It hailed recently completed market research, projecting demand for between 220 and 260 of the jets over a 10-year period.

The company’s chief technology officer, Richard Tracy, told a Le Bourget briefing that its SSBJ will offer roughly twice the current business jet cruise-speed envelope at Mach 1.5 while maintaining fuel efficiency at subsonic speeds of around Mach 0.98. Range for the 12-passenger aircraft is expected to exceed 4,000 nm, with a target price of less than $80 million.

By contrast, Gulfstream Aerospace emphasized that it has no immediate plans to enter the SSBJ race. Company president Bryan Moss told a press conference that there can be no case for such a program until boom-suppression technology has convinced regulators to permit supersonic flight over land. He said that his company continues to investigate quiet supersonic technology but does not expect to see an SSBJ in service for at least a decade. Aerion claims it will achieve this in six years, before the end of 2011.

Speed Record Debate

The Bombardier public relations machine shifted into high gear to hail a new transatlantic speed record for its Global 5000. Pilots Roger Noble and Bruce Robinson took 7 hours and 15 minutes to fly the 3,510 nm from Chicago-area Palwaukee Airport to Le Bourget, which it claimed to be four minutes faster than a comparable Chicago to London hop by the rival Gulfstream G450 en route to the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in May.

But the noise didn’t stop here because Gulfstream insisted that Bombardier had misrepresented its claimed victory by stating, mistakenly, that the G450 had flown 300 fewer miles from Chicago O’Hare Airport to London Luton. In fact, the Gulfstream record attempt had begun at Du Page Airport, west of the Windy City,
adding at least 40 nm to the reckoning.

Confronted with these facts, a Bombardier spokesman promptly challenged Gulfstream to a race between any city pairing of its choice and with the U.S National Aeronautic Association or Federation Aéronautique Internationale observing to ensure fair play. As of press time, it remained unclear whether this gloves-off clash of the titans would materialize.

No less testosterone-fueled was the Javelin personal jet, appearing at the Paris show at least in mock-up form. However, on closer examination, it was being presented in its alternative guise as a jet trainer by joint developers Aviation Technology Group and Israel Aircraft Industries.

Piaggio Aero Industries announced the sale of one of its new Avanti II twin turboprop pushers to an undisclosed private French client. The improved Avanti II, featuring Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, will replace the existing Avanti from serial number 105, and the 100th aircraft left the production line in Genoa, Italy, on June 9. Piaggio also confirmed its intention to further improve the type with the more efficient Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-66B engines.

EADS Socata showcased the latest TBM 700C2 turboprop single. Its 300- ktas max cruise speed is claimed to be the fastest in its class. During the show EADS Socata reached agreement with Aero-Capital for the Paris-based aircraft sales group to market the TBM 700 through its Magellan package, which provides technical and operational support for would-be business aircraft operators.

SAFRAN IS THE NEW NAME FOR SNECMA AND SAGEM

Just in time for the Paris Air Show, newly merged engine maker Snecma and electronics/ communications group Sagem announced that they will now trade under the name Safran. The title comes from the French words for a ship’s rudder blade and also from the spice saffron; the name is intended to suggest ideas such as direction, guidance and international trade.

Safran chairman Jean-Paul Béchat argued that there is more synergy between the merged entities than might appear obvious at first glance due to the greater role that electronics are playing in hitherto mainly mechanical systems for aircraft. He pointed to the electrical braking system being developed by Safran subsidiary Messier-Bugatti and said that Sagem engineers would now be contributing to this and other more-electric-aircraft initiatives.

HELICOPTER NEWS

Sikorsky announced an order for 35 S-76s from oil and gas industry support giant Offshore Logistics. The operator also took options on 24 more, with first deliveries set for late this year and 20 more to follow next year and in 2007. The balance are to be delivered between 2008 and 2012.

Another oil and gas transport provider, Norsk Helikopter, ordered three new examples of the larger S-92. These will be delivered next year, bringing the North Sea operator’s fleet of this type to five.

Sikorsky also outlined its plans to build an experimental helicopter with a coaxial main rotor system. The envisioned rotorcraft, with two counter-rotating rotors on the same vertical axis, is expected to deliver significantly higher cruise speeds than existing conventional rotorcraft. The so-called X-2 demonstrator is expected to fly by the end of next year.

Eurocopter, too, received orders from offshore rotorcraft operators. Bristow Helicopters came to Le Bourget to take delivery of an EC 225 and promptly ordered two more for delivery next year. According to the UK operator’s managing director, Richard Burman, it is about to order four EC 155 B1s.

At the same time, Era Helicopters signed a contract for four EC 135s and took options on four more. These aircraft will operate in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska.

ENGINE NEWS

PowerJet, the joint venture between France’s Safran (formerly Snecma) and Russia’s Saturn, announced that the SaM 146 engines being developed for Sukhoi’s Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) will start ground tests in April next year. At its Le Bourget exhibit, Sukhoi unveiled a mock-up of the RRJ cabin and cockpit, featuring the new flight deck developed by France’s Thales group.

The RRJ is set to be Russia’s first fly-by-wire commercial aircraft, and the cockpit design is now said to be “almost frozen.” Though backed by a good number of options and provisional purchase agreements, the program has yet to be irrevocably launched. Nonetheless, key subsections of the airplane are already being built, and assembly of the first example is due to be completed by the end of the summer.

Pratt & Whitney Canada announced plans to offer an all-new engine to power Bombardier’s pending C Series airliner program. The news that its United Technologies Group sibling, Pratt & Whitney, will also play a part in the development marked a sudden reversal in its thinking, since barely a week before the Paris show P&W president Louis Chenevert had told AIN that a “clean sheet design” would not be suitable for the aircraft. P&WC president Alain Bellemare later clarified that the precise terms of the powerplant offering will be settled over the next few months.

At the Paris show, Bombardier unveiled a cabin mock-up of the C Series to demonstrate that the aircraft is intended as a step above regional jets. It promises greater comfort than existing single-aisle transports with 18.5-inch-wide seats in five-abreast configuration and a 20-inch aisle. The C Series will be offered as a 110- to 115-seat C110 model and as the larger C130, with range varying between 1,800 nm and 3,000 nm.

CFM International launched a new technology development program called Leap56 to ensure that its CFM56 series of turbofans keeps ahead of both future environmental regulations and the airlines’ need for reduced fuel consumption. CFM executive vice president William Clapper said that the U.S.-French joint venture will be pushing for 10-percent cuts in fuel burn and a 25-percent reduction in maintenance costs. This will be achieved through new fan technology, innovative power-generation strategies to avoid bleeding air from the engine and new composite materials, as well as high- and low-pressure turbine technologies.

International Aero Engines announced that it is in talks with both Boeing and Airbus about powerplant options for prospective next-generation 150-seaters to replace their respective 737 and A320 single-aisle lines.