Paris Air Show 2011 Report

 - June 27, 2011, 4:05 AM

Organizers of the 2011 Paris Air Show (June 20-26) promised a feel-good factor that would leave the aerospace industry in no doubt that the long-awaited recovery has kicked in. They kept their word, and then some, with wave upon wave of new airliner orders and the associated new business in engines, equipment and support packages.

As the penultimate trade day opened at Le Bourget, the running total of contracts signed at Le Bourget had topped $87 billion, according to AIN analysis. Visitors got a daily drenching from incessant showers, but it felt great–as if the heavens were trying to wash away the despondency brought on by trading in limbo for three unsettling years since the financial crisis. For every drop of rain that fell on the show site, it felt as if a dollar bill also fell.

Of course, that was the story for the civil side of the business. Those earning their living in the defense sector likely returned home from the French capital feeling less sanguine about the next couple of years. Yes, there was still an impressive array of military technology on display, but there was no escaping the well founded concerns about defense budgets shrinking to help balance government budgets depleted during the campaign to shore up banks.

The 49th Paris salon promised a star-studded bill of display aircraft. In this respect it did not completely deliver on its promise, but largely for reasons far beyond its control.

Airbus suffered the loss of not one, but two, representatives in the flying display. Gearbox gremlins nixed the appearance of the new A400M military transport. Human error resulted in an A380 widebody clipping its wings against the side of a building while taxiing into position and having to be sent home to Toulouse for a quick fix. Russia’s mesmerizing fighters also were absent, for reasons never explained.

And the eagerly anticipated Solar Impulse sun-powered aircraft turned out to be something of a damp squib. The sun barely showed its face all week, and driving rain and gusty wind served to clip the wings of this inspiring glimpse of aviation’s green future.

Paris 2011 wasn’t quite a full-blown classic. But many thousands of aerospace folk–some 150,000 professional visitors and 2,100 exhibitors–will remember it for the rest of their careers as the year that a good part of the industry turned its back on the bad times…at least this time around.

Narrowbodies Lead the Way

The airliner business transacted at Le Bourget signaled a brighter economic outlook as well as a resurgent appetite for new aircraft among the world’s air carriers. During the first two days of the show alone, more than $60 billion in orders for new airliners and engines were tallied, exceeding the amount garnered during the entire week of the 2008 Farnborough International airshow, the last major show before the global economic meltdown.

By all accounts, Airbus enjoyed an incredibly successful show in terms of fattening its order book. The Toulouse airframer logged a record number of orders for any OEM at any airshow ever. When the dust settled, the EADS subsidiary boasted orders from 16 customers for 730 aircraft worth $72.2 billion. The commitments consist of firm purchase orders for 418 aircraft worth $44 billion, and memoranda of understanding (MOU) for an additional 312 commercial jets valued at $28.2 billion.

Airbus’s single-aisle A320neo dominated the transactions as operators and leasing groups lined up to announce a seemingly nonstop flow of orders. Air Lease Corp. signed a MOU, envisioning purchases of up to 50 of the twinjets along with a firm order for 11 A330s and one A321.

GE Capital Aviation Services (Gecas) followed that deal by upping the total of A320neos by 60 aircraft in an order that would be worth approximately $5.4 billion. The leasing company added $1.4 billion in CFM International’s Leap engines to power them. CIT leasing group signed an MOU for 50 A320neos, worth up to $4.5 billion, while JetBlue added another $4.6 billion MOU for up to 40 of the re-engined twinjets. U.S.-based Republic Airways Holdings inked an approximately $7 billion MOU for 80 aircraft, including 40 A320neos and 40 A319neos. The deal would make Republic the launch customer for the A319neo. Garuda Indonesia sealed another MOU for 10 A320neos, plus 15 of the existing A320s at an approximate value of $2.1 billion. In a firm order, TransAsia Airways of Taiwan swelled the European airframer’s order log with the purchase of six A321neos worth an approximate $635 million. Saudi Arabian Airlines tacked on an additional four A330-300s valued at around $800 million. Chilean airline LAN finalized another order for 20 A320neos and became the first Latin American carrier to select the re-engined A320. AviancaTaca, which has a previous MOU covering 51 A320neo/A320s, converted 33 of those aircraft to firm order, making it the holder of the largest order ever from Latin America in terms of the number of aircraft, Indian airlines showed their appreciation for the A320neo as low-cost carrier IndiGo solidified a previously signed MOU for 150 A320neos and 30 A320s, worth $13.5 billion, and GoAir placed a firm order for 72 A320neos.

But the biggest bang of all came from AirAsia, which in the largest single firm order in aviation history, signed for 200 A320neos, making it the world’s biggest airline customer for the airframer’s single-aisle product line.

In the larger-aircraft category, Japan’s Skymark Airlines placed a firm order for another pair of A380s, bringing its total to six of the superjumbos on order. The carrier expects to use the aircraft on international routes linking Tokyo’s Narita airport with European and U.S. destinations.

Kuwaiti leasing company Alafco increased its order of A350XWBs by six (worth $1.6 billion) to a total of 18 of the widebody aircraft. Airbus announced just before the show that deliveries of its A350XWB-800 and A350XWB-1000 will be delayed by two years, to mid-2016 and mid-2017 respectively. The company claims the delay for the -1000 will allow it to boost payload-range performance to better match that of the Boeing 777-300ER in accordance with customer requests. The improvements will provide the A350-1000 with an additional 400 nm of range (8,400 nm with a full load of 350 passengers) or 4.5 more metric tons of payload. The aircraft will receive uprated Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, with thrust increased from 93,000 to 97,000 pounds.

Seattle’s Sales

While none of its products took part in the flight display, Boeing’s new aircraft dominated the static. In a tour de force, the Chicago-based company brought its new 747-8 Intercontinental, dressed in a flashy orange-toned livery designed to catch the eye of Asian carriers (as the color represents prosperity and good luck in Eastern cultures) along with its freighter sibling, the 747-8, and the 787 Dreamliner, all making their Le Bourget debuts.

Outshone by Airbus’ avalanche of A320neo orders, Boeing also landed its share of business. Air Lease Corp tallied a laundry list of potential purchases that included up to 24 737-800s, five 777-300ERs and four 787-9 Dreamliners. The leasing group also agreed to exercise its purchase options for an additional six 737-800s. Gecas signed a deal for a pair of the new 747-8 freighters along with eight 777-300ERs, while Russia’s Aeroflot added eight more 777-300ERs worth around $2.2 billion. Norwegian Air Shuttle announced a $1.2 billion order for 15 737-800s and Malaysian Airlines added another 10 of the type. Russia’s UTair added to its stable of 30 Boeings with an order for 40 737NGs (seven 737-900ERs and 33 737-800s) worth more than $3.2 billion, and Mongolian carrier MIAT tacked on a pair of 737-800s and a 767-300ER.

Qatar Airlines confirmed that it has become the launch customer for a VIP version of the 747-8 that it will make available for charter through its Qatar Executive division. The Middle Eastern carrier also signed a $1.7 billion contract for an additional half a dozen 777-300ERs that will be powered by $350 million worth of GE Aviation GE90 engines. The order will bring the Doha-based airline’s total up to 40 of the widebody twins since it signed its first contract in November 2007. Boeing also announced two contracts to undisclosed clients for up to 17 of its 747-8Is, worth more than $5.3 billion, bringing the total backlog for the four-engine widebody to 50 aircraft.

Those who came to Le Bourget hoping that Boeing would tip its hand on its future single-aisle plans left disappointed. The company did not announce a successor to the 737NG, leading to frustration among some market players. While Airbus raked in the orders for its A320neo, International Lease Finance Corp CEO Henri Courpron said at the show that Boeing needs to “get on with it,” if it is to compete with the Toulouse-based airframer. He felt the windfall of Airbus orders could be just the prod Boeing requires to finalize its plans. Courpron suggested that the manufacturer need only find a 5- or 6-percent improvement in the economics of its 737-800 to keep it in the picture while it continues to ponder an all-new replacement.

Boeing meanwhile in a pre-show press briefing said it would not be rushed to a decision regardless of any early success the A320neo might achieve. “We don’t have a decision date at the end of the year,” said Nicole Piasecki, vice president of business development at Boeing Commercial Aircraft, which has a backlog of more than 2,000 jets. “We will decide when we are ready. These are big, big decisions with lots of implications that we are approaching deliberately.” Piasecki stated that the 737-800 in its present state already offers a 2-percent better operating cost per seat than the A320neo promises to deliver when it enters service in 2015.

Though the two major players raked in the orders, the smaller fish fed well too. Bombardier received further validation of its developing C Series program. An undisclosed airline, identified only as a “major network carrier,” placed a firm order for 10 CS100s, with options for another six of the 110- to 125-seat twinjets, a deal that could eventually be worth $1.1 billion. According to Bombardier, it was the third firm order for the aircraft in June, bringing the total C Series aircraft (CS100 and CS300) order book to 113, spread among six customers. The Canadian airframer also received a letter of intent for 30 CS300’s from Korean Air.

While the show was taking place, on the other side of the Atlantic Pratt & Whitney carried out the first flight test of the PW1500G geared turbofan engine that will eventually power the aircraft. Also at the show, Rockwell Collins held the official unveiling of the new jet’s Pro Line Fusion flight deck at Bombardier’s C Series pavilion. “This flight deck for the future offers enhanced pilot awareness, increased simplicity, paperless operation and reduced pilot training time,” said Robert Dewar,

v-p and general manager for the C Series program. The flight management system is based on phase of flight, saving the pilots from confusing menus by displaying all the information they need for a particular phase, such as landing. The new cockpit will also feature sidestick controllers, leaving room for a pull out keyboard. Bombardier expects to complete the C Series Ciasta (complete integrated aircraft systems test area) by the first quarter of next year, ahead of the aircraft’s planned first flight in next year’s second half.

Embraer garnered nearly $2 billion in orders for its E190 jetliner. Sriwijaya Air placed an order for 20 E190s valued at $856 million, while Air Astana signed a deal for a pair of the E-Jets plus options on two more worth approximately $85.6 million. Gecas added another two to the total. An order for 10 E190s along with an additional option by Kenya Airways for 10 more was considered a “firm” letter of intent. The orders will take the Brazilian airframer’s E-Jet series over the 1,000-aircraft mark. As to whether it would launch a new aircraft in the 130/150-seat range, the company was noncommittal. Responding to questions of whether Embraer might enter the market with an enlarged E-Jet, Paulo César, the company’s president of commercial aviation, emphatically told the audience at a show press conference that “to enlarge the E-Jet would compromise the aircraft.”

Russia’s commercial aircraft manufacturers made a strong showing, with the Sukhoi SSJ100 Superjet and the Antonov An-148 and An-158 regional jetliners on display. Just two months after the SSJ100’s entry into service with Armavia, Sukhoi announced a partnership with Alenia Aeronautica at the show, for the launch of an executive version of the SSJ100 dubbed the SBJ or Sukhoi Business Jet. Scheduled for certification in 2014, the SBJ would cost approximately $50 million depending on configuration. 

Turboprop airliners also made a splash. Franco-Italian airframer ATR, which debuted its recently EASA-certified ATR 72-600 at the show, notched several orders, including its first ever from Gecas. The $680 million GE deal called for a firm order for 15 ATR 72-600s plus options for an additional 15. An industry source told AIN that the aircraft could be intended to replace ageing Bombardier Dash 8s in the leasing company’s portfolio. Brazilian carrier Azul Lanhas Aéreas converted 10 of its 20 options remaining from last year’s initial order of 20 of the new turboprop twins, while Danish lessor Nordic Aviation Capital placed a firm $450 million order for 10 ATR 72-600s along with options for 10 more. In all, the OEM announced new firm orders for 60 aircraft along with options on another 37 during the show, swelling its order book to more than 233 units, worth approximately $5.4 billion and representing three years of production. ATR plans to ramp up production of the 70-seater by 40 percent in response to the demand.

French manufacturer Geci Aviation signed more potential customers for its Skylander SK-105 twin turboprop regional and utility transport, and also announced a firm order. Malaysia’s Trans Air ordered eight SK-105s plus options for four more for use in Southeast Asian tourist services, while Kan Airlines of Thailand signed an MOU for five Skylanders with three options to serve areas in the north of the country with limited infrastructure. Indonesia’s PT Sky Aviation inked an MOU covering 20 SK-105s in a commuter configuration, along with options for an additional 10. The airframer also received a letter of interest from the Malian Air Force for four surveillance-configured Reims F406 light turboprop twins.

Powering the Demand

All those aircraft require powerplants, and engine makers shared in the order bounty. CFM International claimed $4.2 billion in orders for its CFM56-5B and -7B engines, which power the A320 and 737, respectively. GE Aviation, which owns half of CFM (Safran subsidiary Snecma owns the other half) as well as half of Engine Alliance (shared with Pratt & Whitney), claimed total sales of $27 billion during the show.  All told, GE Aviation and its joint-venture companies sold more than 1,400 engines valued at more than $16 billion. 

Rolls-Royce, which confirmed development of an enhanced 97,000-pound-thrust Trent XWB engine, also secured orders of $2.9 billion from customers in South America, the Middle East and Asia. 

As of press time, AIN was unable to confirm the number of sales Pratt & Whitney tallied.

Thinking Green

The show is traditionally a forum for the latest aviation environmental issues, and this year was no exception as two companies used biofuel blends to carry their aircraft to Paris. Boeing’s 747-8 freighter arrived at the show with the distinction of being the first commercial airliner to make a transoceanic flight with all four engines powered by a sustainable aviation biofuel blend. The freighter made the nonstop flight from Everett, Wash., to Le Bourget with its quartet of GEnx-28 engines burning a drop-in blend of camelina-based biofuel (15 percent) and jet-A (85 percent). The flight came two days after a Honeywell-operated Gulfstream G450 became the first jet to cross the Atlantic using a biofuel blend (see article on page 6).

Helicopter Debutantes

Rotorcraft were among the some of the more high-profile aircraft at this year’s show as Eurocopter’s high-speed X³ demonstrator made its first public flight demonstration. The hybrid helicopter, which sports a pair of fixed propellers mounted on stub wings in addition to its rotor, reached 232 ktas in May. The manufacturer hinted that the aircraft has not yet reached its top speed.

Two new Sikorsky products made their Paris debuts. Sikorsky showed its S-70i, the newest variant of its successful multi-role Black Hawk, to the international community for the first time. The example on display was assembled and flight tested by Polish manufacturer PZL Mielec, which became part of Sikorsky in 2007. Among the roles touted for the medium-lift helicopter are humanitarian relief, VIP transport, search-and-rescue, medical evacuation, command and control, and armed patrol.

The CH148 Cyclone, a military variant of the S-92 developed for the Canadian military ,was also on display. Canada received its first of the search-and-rescue model in an “interim” operational capability in May. The first “fully compliant” deliveries of the large-cabin helicopter–intended to replace the country’s aging CH-124 Sea Kings–are expected this time next year.

While Sikorsky showed off a civil helicopter turned military, AgustaWestland went in the opposite direction when it chose Le Bourget as the venue to unveil its latest product, the twin-turbine AW189. A straight derivative of the company’s military AW149, with accommodations for up to 18 passengers, the new helicopter is aimed at the offshore petroleum transport and parapublic operations as well as the search-and-rescue markets. Certification for the eight-ton aircraft is expected in 2013.

Dassault’s SMS and 2000S on track

Dassault chairman and CEO Charles Edelstenne said at Paris that all the structure and main systems suppliers for the company’s new super-midsize (SMS) business jet have been selected, although the company declined to identify them for the present. Edelstenne said the initial digital model, along with high- and low-speed wind tunnel testing validation of the design, has been completed. According to the company, the prototype will fly in 2014 with deliveries to follow two years later. Edelstenne also said that the new entry-level Falcon 2000S should be certified by the end of next year. He claimed that the airplane, which carries a price tag of “less than $25 million,” will offer superior airfield, climb and cruise performance and specific fuel consumption that will beat smaller jets.