Paris Air Show Preview: Manufacturers gear up for international debuts

 - November 1, 2006, 5:37 AM

Back in 2003, when then U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice was advising the White House on how to handle the diplomatic fall-out from the transatlantic row over the Iraq war she reportedly urged President Bush to “Punish the French, ignore the Germans and forgive the Russians.”

Part of France’s punishment came in the form of a de facto U.S. boycott of the 2003 Paris Air Show, with several leading aerospace and defense firms staying away–in many cases citing the need to cut costs as the main official motive for doing so.

France’s punishment–at least insofar as it relates to the biennial Le Bourget airshow–appears to be over. The Paris 2005 exhibitor list shows the vast majority of major U.S. firms back on the roster, although, as of press time, it was still unclear how much military hardware the Pentagon would put on display.

This year the Bush Administration has tried to take a more conciliatory line in its relations with the government of French President Jacques Chirac over defense and strategic issues. But transatlantic trade issues are becoming increasingly fractious and these fault lines seem certain to appear at next month’s Paris show at the city’s Le Bourget Airport (June 13 to 19).

Since before the U.S. presidential election, European Union (EU) and U.S. officials have been trying to resolve a bitter dispute over alleged government subsidies for Airbus’s new airliner programs. A three-month deadline to seek a settlement before taking the issue to the World Trade Organization recently lapsed without any sign of compromise.

Boeing is already landing early blows on Airbus over what it views as subsidies for the A380 airliner program, and inevitably both sides will ratchet up the rhetoric several more notches come show time.

At the same time, the two sides are at loggerheads over the European desire to end the arms trade embargo on China. What makes these rows tougher for President Bush is that while UK Prime Minster Tony Blair came to heel for the Iraq war, he is firmly in the European camp on these issues, and they threaten to escalate into a costly, full-blown trade war.

Debutantes Will Take Center Stage

But despite all the political furor surrounding this year’s Paris show, the event has the potential to be a classic, with the anticipated full international debuts of both the A380 super-large airliner and Dassault’s new Falcon 7X business jet. Other anticipated highlights include appearances by Boeing’s new long-range 777-200LR and Embraer’s 195 regional jet.

The high profile Dassault’s new trijet will enjoy will be an important boost for business aviation’s presence on the world stage.

This month’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (May 18 to 20) in Geneva has undoubtedly established itself as the Continent’s main showcase for corporate aircraft, prompting some airframers, suppliers and service companies to question whether they can justify the considerable expense of exhibiting at next month’s Paris show as well.

Nonetheless, Cessna appears to be the only major company that has opted to focus on EBACE rather than Paris. However, it seems probable that the Raytheon group’s presence at Le Bourget will focus almost exclusively on its defense and air traffic management activities, rather than on the Hawker and Beechcraft business aircraft.

In addition to Dassault, Gulfstream, Bombardier, Embraer, Piaggio, EADS Socata and Pilatus are expected to show business aircraft. According to airshow organizers Gulfstream will display its G450 and G550. It remains to be seen to what extent these airframers will emphasize government and special-mission applications of their aircraft over pure corporate versions.

One somewhat surprising bizav manufacturer on the Paris exhibitor list is supersonic business jet contender Aerion. At press time the company was not booked to appear at EBACE as well and has said relatively little about its ambitious program since unveiling it at last year’s NBAA show in Las Vegas.

Both Boeing and Airbus are likely to show their respective BBJ and ACJ executive transports, in addition to their airliners. Civil rotorcraft manufacturers on the Paris exhibitor list include Bell, Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Bell/Agusta.

And there will be other business aviation flags hoisted over the Le Bourget field, with prominent groups such as TAG Aeronautics and BBA Aviation (including the Signature Flight Support FBO chain) all booked to exhibit. Fractional ownership giant NetJets is also set to exhibit in Paris.

Leading engine and avionics groups Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, CMC Electronics, Snecma, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca are also on the Paris exhibit roster, as is high-end executive/VIP completions house Lufthansa Technik.

In addition to the Embraer 195, the regional airliner sector will be represented by Bombardier and Europe’s Avions de Transport Regional, which has lately enjoyed a minor resurgence of turboprop transport sales. Seeking to convince the market that the Russian Regional Jet is a permanent fixture in the marketplace will be Sukhoi, which is leading an international consortium to build the new airframe. Stork Aerospace of the Netherlands will also be there offering both airline and corporate versions of its refurbished Fokker 100.

In the show’s military domain, the latest versions of France’s Rafale and Mirage fighters will be at the forefront of the flying display, along with the eye-grabbing demonstrations by the Russian MiG-29 and Su-27 combat airplanes. Unmanned aerial vehicles for emerging surveillance and attack roles will also be much in evidence at Le Bourget.