As I flew home amid the screaming babies in the back of a packed 767 from Charles de Gaulle Airport to New York’s JFK, something struck me as different about this Paris Air Show, apart from the exceptional number of orders and so-called commitments the world’s civil aircraft manufacturers had managed to collect for broadcast at Le Bourget.
I had grown used to what I and others had perceived as an almost indifferent attitude toward airshows from one of the world’s two dominant aerospace companies, dating back at least to Farnborough 2002, when former Boeing chairman and CEO Phil Condit famously questioned the value of bringing aircraft to such events. This year’s effort by Boeing, which brought three of its own civil test aircraft to the show and promoted the arrival of a Qatar 777-200LR and Air Berlin 737-700 with a new Sky Interior, seemed to mark a real change in approach for the company.
Indeed, Boeing appeared to embrace unequivocally the idea of international airshow participation, starting with the dramatic arrival of the 747-8 Intercontinental on the day before the event opened, complete with the opportunity for all the media assembled to mingle freely with high-level executives, such as Elizabeth Lund, 747 program manager, and Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of aircraft programs.
Even Boeing Company chairman and CEO Jim McNerney and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh made an appearance to help welcome what might well have proved the star of the show, Intercontinental RC001, dressed in its distinctive red and orange “Sunrise” livery, after nearly a 10-hour flight direct from Seattle.
Later in the show, to help mark the arrival of the 787, Boeing held its traditional media reception. But, again, something seemed different. People, including, Lund were much more approachable. Seemingly ever present in and around the Boeing media chalet, Randy Tinseth, the company’s marketing guru, never tired of offering a quote or two about the Boeing’s views in general and anything to do with its participation at this year’s show.
For whatever reason, Boeing simply showed a new, more friendly face, for once eschewing the staid, ultra-corporate image that for so long left the impression that it would rather see these rather expensive and time-consuming airshows go away altogether.
Rather, Boeing seemed to feel comfortable doing what Airbus has done for years–embrace the international airshow circuit as a marketing opportunity like no other–and show the world that it, too, can contribute wholeheartedly, and without a hint of resistance, to the spectacle that makes the Paris Air Show one of the aerospace industry’s most anticipated events.
So while Airbus undoubtedly won the sales numbers game at Le Bourget, the 2011 Paris show will long be remembered as the one where Boeing shed its inhibitions and let its new products shine on the international stage.