Organizers upbeat for this month’s Paris show

 - June 2, 2009, 11:11 AM

Despite the current economic crisis and the absence of two major U.S. business jet manufacturers (Gulfstream and Cessna), organizers of the Paris Air Show have said that this year’s event will not be down significantly in size compared with years past, when the industry has been more buoyant.

According to Paris Air Show managing director Gilles Fournier, the “few cancellations” have been largely offset by “more clients in the chalets.” The Paris Air Show is celebrating its centenary during the June 15 to 21 event at Le Bourget Airport on the outskirts of Paris. The first four days of the show are exclusively for trade visitors, with gates open to the public from June 19.

French Prime Minister François Fillon is expected to open the show officially on June 15 and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit the event on June 20. In addition to exhibits, daily aerial performances and static displays, the 16th “Forum Air et Espace,” a major aerospace careers fair organized by Gifas, will be held from June 19 to 21 in the Concorde Hall during the three public days. Some 60 companies and school centers (engineering colleges, universities and apprenticeship centers) will present their recruitment requirements and teaching programs to an audience of 30,000 high-school and university students, young graduates and job seekers.

The first exhibition was held in 1909 at the Grand Palais, but when it moved to Le Bourget in 1953 it became a biennial event. Thus, even though it has been in existence for 100 years, this will be the 48th edition, all sponsored by Gifas, the French aerospace industries association. This year marks several other significant milestones for the aviation industry: the 40th anniversary of Airbus; the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight across the Channel between France and England; and the 40th anniversaries of the first moon landing and the first flights of the French and British Concorde SST prototypes.

Organizers had hoped to have two new designs debut at the celebration, but both the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A400 military cargo aircraft are too far behind schedule to appear this year. However, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors will be making their first appearance and will perform daily for airshow visitors.

“We are definitely making a big splash,” said Sherry Epperson, director of international events for the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association. The U.S. Department of Defense will have 11 other aircraft on display, including the B-1B bomber, C-17 transport and three multirole attack aircraft– the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18.

Russia’s new 95-seat Sukhoi Superjet 100 is also due to make its full international debut at the show as it prepares to complete certification by year-end. Deliveries were originally slated to begin in 2007.

Up to 150 display aircraft are expected to alight at Le Bourget this year. As of April, organizers had confirmed just over 80 of these, with exhibitors evidently still considering the practicalities and significant costs involved in showing aircraft in Paris. For example, there are doubts as to whether Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-37 high-performance combat jets will be on hand to wow the crowds, with the country’s United Aircraft debating whether it can justify the insurance costs–estimated at up to $700,000 per aircraft in this case–that must be met before any aircraft can perform in the flying display.

Billed as the world’s largest airshow, Paris 2009 is projected to be a temporary home for approximately 2,000 international exhibitors and some 150,000 trade visitors from more than 140 countries. Also expected are 200 official delegations, 200,000 public visitors and 3,500 journalists.

At an April 3 press conference in London, Fournier acknowledged that the number of trade visitors might turn out to be less than in previous years as participating companies reduce costs by sending smaller teams. “We probably will see some reduction in professional visitors from the big companies, who might, for instance, bring 150 people to the show instead of 200,” he told AIN. “But the ones who do come will come to do real business and we expect more public visitors this year because of the centennial event.”

Organizers estimate that on average the larger Paris exhibitors are reducing the amount of space they occupy by around 5 to 10 percent this year. For example, France’s Safran group is combining all its various subsidiaries, including Snecma, Turbomeca and Messier Dowty, into one exhibit that will be about 25 percent smaller than in previous years.

By contrast, participation by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is proportionally higher and now accounts for as much as 75 percent of the whole show. Fournier said that he expects companies in the aerospace supply chain to enjoy a higher profile at this year’s show, due to the somewhat reduced presence of the main OEMs. “In times of crisis, fairs and exhibitions are very important for SMEs and we can see that they are investing more to be more visible,” he commented.

Despite the severe pressure on exhibiting companies to cut their costs, Paris has not reduced its fees for exhibition space. Fournier said that the show is unable to do this because French aerospace industry association Gifas counts on the income for its activities.

The Paris organizers acknowledge that feedback from the 2007 show indicated they have not yet met their own targets in terms of customer satisfaction, achieving an average score of “around 7 out of 10” compared with the goal of 7.5. Nonetheless, they have spent around ?7 million ($9.1 million) on improvements to the show site and more investment is expected in time for the 2011 event.

Another feature of the Paris Air Show is a special business-to-business service that arranges meetings between smaller suppliers and purchasing managers for OEMs.
The service is arranged by the BCI group, which builds a database of exhibitors and buyers, automatically matching openings in their schedules. For ?400 ($520), companies can have multiple meetings booked for them, with times and venues confirmed online three or four days ahead of the show. This money is refunded if clients don’t get the meetings they want or are unhappy with the service.

The 27 national pavilions will include those of Japan, South Korea, India, Poland, the Czech Republic, Mexico (which has an increased presence), Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. Chinese firms are also set to have a large presence at Le Bourget.

Louis Le Portz, chairman and CEO of the Paris Air Show, told journalists in Washington that in addition to selling out all 350 chalets, organizers had sold 550,000 sq ft of stands (covering 100 percent of the venue capacity and one temporary hall for the last to arrive).

More information about the 2009 Paris Air Show can be found at www.paris-air-show.com.