Paris Air Show Preview 2003

 - January 30, 2008, 10:33 AM

The 2003 Paris Air Show will open its doors June 15 to 22 against a backdrop of bitter conflict and recriminations. But enough of relations between the U.S. and France. This year’s Le Bourget show also cannot fail to be overshadowed by the ramifications of the war in Iraq, which, as of press time, was still raging, despite the best efforts of the Chirac administration and several other major world leaders to halt the conflict.

Paris has been here before. Back in June 1991, the biennial show was held just a couple of months after the first Gulf War ended with Saddam Hussein’s forces booted out of Kuwait, but allowed to skulk back to Baghdad to fight another day. A dozen years on, the key difference is that no fewer than four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council–France, Germany, Russia and China–have blocked the determination of the U.S. and UK to deal with unfinished business, and so the governments of the world’s leading aerospace and defense nations go into this year’s Paris show resolutely at odds with each other.

But despite the resentment clearly felt on both sides of the
divide, the aerospace and defense industries of all countries concerned seem determined to bury any political differences–at least superficially. They are united by, if nothing else, a common struggle to endure an economic downturn that has proved more stubborn than Saddam himself since 9/11.

If certain U.S. Congressmen had had their way, there would be no American companies hawking their wares in the Le Bourget halls next month. But the response to this threatened boycott has been taken less seriously than that of resi-
dents of Manhattan’s upper west side, having responded to calls to eschew imported Chablis and Pont l’Eveque cheese and to stop eating at french restaurants.

The truth is that for all the congressional bluster, the U.S. industry big guns will be in the French capital along with just about everyone else still employed in this battered global industry. At a press conference held in March just before hostilities broke out in Iraq, Le Bourget organizers accepted that the context of the show is “difficult” but insisted that it will go on, just as it always has done during previous bouts of world–and even transatlantic–tension.

“There is no sign of [U.S.] withdrawals and no reason to think they will not take part, especially as this 45th air show marks the centenary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight and the show’s half century at the Le Bourget site,” said Philippe Camus, president and CEO of European Aeronautics Defence & Space (EADS) and president of French aerospace industry group GIFAS. He pointed out that back in 1991, the Paris show broke attendance records that were not to be surpassed again until 1997.

More Than Ever
According to the show’s general commissary, Yves Bonnet, this year’s event will be 538,213 sq ft larger than the 2001 event, which itself boasted 1.2 million sq ft of covered exhibit space and 2.1 million sq ft of static display. He predicted that visitor numbers will match the 306,658 who came through the gates two years ago and that the number of exhibitors will be close to the 1,856 companies that came to the French capital from some 42 countries last time, bringing with them no fewer than 226 aircraft.

If the 2003 edition can maintain the record scale of the 2001 event, it will be some achievement after a couple of years that have seen tens of thousands of jobs shed by the industry. Bonnet predicted that numbers will be bolstered by larger participation from the countries of eastern Europe and Asia. One key statistic from the 2001 show that is very unlikely to be matched this year is the $60 billion in orders that organizers say were announced two years ago.

One sector of the industry that will not be at Le Bourget this year in such big numbers as in previous years is business aviation. Cessna and Raytheon Aircraft have decided to give Paris a miss, preferring instead to show their latest offerings at the fast-growing European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition being staged in Geneva this month (May 7 to 9), barely six weeks ahead of Paris. Raytheon will, however, be displaying a Beech 1900D twin turboprop and a T-6A Texan II trainer.

Gulfstream Aerospace is coming to Le Bourget but has made it clear that it will be focusing its efforts there on marketing special missions applications for its family of jets. In this capacity, it plans to show both the G200 and GV.

On its home turf, Dassault will inevitably have a sizeable presence at the Paris show. However, in view of the close proximity of EBACE, Dassault’s Mirage and Rafale combat airplanes can be expected to have a higher profile than the Falcon bizjet family. The provisional display list showed four unspecified Falcon models among an eight-aircraft complement of Dassault products.

Bombardier will have a substantial presence at this year’s show, representing both its business and regional aircraft product ranges. A spokesman for the company told AIN that it has always enjoyed strong sales success from the show. In addition to a CRJ900 regional jet and a Q400 twin turboprop, the Canadian manufacturer also expects to show a Challenger 604, Global Express, Learjet 31A, Learjet 45 and Learjet 60.

With the world’s leading civil airframers, Airbus and Boeing, in retrenchment mode due to the continued softening in air transport demand, this year’s Paris show is unlikely to see any mammoth new orders.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Boeing abandoned the faster-and-further SonicCruiser jet it had argued airlines would need more than Airbus’ bigger-is-better A380 super-large widebody. The battleground for new-generation equipment has now shifted to the middle of the rivals’ product ranges. Boeing is still toying with the idea of developing a 210- to 250-seat 767 successor that is currently designated the 7E7. Airbus is expected to offer replacements for its A300/310 models to match this new challenge.

According to the provisional list of aircraft slated for display at Le Bourget this year that was available at press time, Airbus is expected to show one of its new 120-seat A318 twinjets, an Airbus Corporate Jetliner, an A330 and the new A340-600. Boeing, which at last year’s Farnborough event questioned the value of bringing any aircraft to air shows, is expected to limit its contribution to a 737, a 777 and an F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Embraer will give Paris debuts to its new 170 and 175 regional jets. The Brazilian airframer will be looking to make up some lost ground in Europe following Swiss International’s decision three months ago to significantly reduce the number of airliners it has on order with Embraer.

French-Italian Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) will be displaying its current production ATR 72-500 68-seater. Further demonstration of the tenacity of firms that still believe in a regional airline role for twin-turboprop transports will be provided by Sweden’s Saab, which will bring to Paris one of its out-of-production 50-seat Saab 2000s–still active in both the used and leased market segments.

By the time the Paris Air Show opens its doors, Europe’s Joint Aviation Authorities are expected to have finally approved commercial operations of single-engine aircraft in IFR conditions. This long-suppressed market opportunity will fill Le Bourget exhibitors Pilatus and EADS Socata with hope for their respective PC-12 and TBM 700 turboprop singles. France’s Socata will be showing the just-certified C2 version of the TBM 700.

Also targeting this niche and making its international debut at the Le Bourget show is the VF600W Mission turboprop single from Italy’s Vulcanair. The high-wing, fixed-gear, unpressurized aircraft seats 11 passengers and appears to be a close challenger to the Cessna Caravan. It is powered by the Czech-built Walter M601F-11. Italy’s Piaggio is due to bring a pair of its Avanti twin pusherprops to the Le Bourget show.

Paris 2003 will offer a full array of civil helicopters, including the long-promised European debut of the ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter) from India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). AgustaWestland will display a pair of its A109 twins and the Bell/Agusta alliance is expected to show two copies of its new AB139.

Not to be outdone on its home turf, the French-German Eurocopter group has promised to bring no fewer than 15 of its rotorcraft. According to the provisional display list, these will include two EC 120s, two EC 130s, two EC 135s, an EC 145, two EC 155s, an EC 635 and a pair of the new EC 725. These will be ably guarded by a couple of Tiger gunships.

The 2003 Paris Air Show will be open to trade visitors only from June 16 to 22, with the general public also allowed access on June 15 and on June 21 to 22. President Jacques Chirac will open the event on June 14, which is also the official press day. French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will attend the show on June 21.
The show hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each day’s flying display will take place between 12 noon and 4 p.m.