With doom and despondency reigning across so many parts of the EU economy and with European governments tumbling over themselves to reverse years of living beyond their means, next week’s Paris Air Show at Le Bourget should provide something to be enthusiastic about.
Sad though it is for me to say, and particularly with all that wonderful sophisticated military aircraft technology on display, it is best to forget Paris this year being about defence: I doubt the subject will get much of a look in.
For all its brilliance in showing off the world’s best aerospace and defence technology and providing great space for the industry to engage in global networking, The Paris Air Show will in the end all be about commercial aircraft and the orders that the big boys receive. After all, alongside the Farnborough Air Show, Paris will be all about order announcements from Boeing and Airbus, I’m afraid to say. I doubt that those who enjoy this annual battle will be disappointed either, and I would be very surprised indeed if Airbus had not received several significant order announcements.
As things stand right now, I am told that Boeing has received a great deal more orders than Airbus so far this year – but don’t let that deceive you into thinking that that is how it will look by the end of the Paris Air Show! I suspect that the real point will be that that Paris will show off how well the commercial aircraft industry has recovered in line with how airline customers have recovered too.
Technology that will hopefully reduce fuel usage, reduce the reliance on traditional sourced fuels, reduce aircraft weight, and that claims to improve operating efficiency is the new order of the day. And it’s coming too – be it in alloys, plastics or material that actually grows. Engine makers such as Rolls-Royce, GE and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney subsidiary will all be busy showing off the latest ideas that they have on this front. Airbus, Boeing and others will be attempting to demonstrate why notwithstanding the various development problems each has had that their newest generation planes – the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 – are all that they are hyped up to be in terms of cost saving operational efficiency. I very much doubt that either company will disappoint.
As someone who has spent the best of a lifetime putting defence aerospace on a pedestal over and above commercial, I can say that I dislike the manner in which the so-called race between Boeing and Airbus dominate big trade shows like Paris seemingly at the expense of everything else. But there’s no use throwing straws to the wind, and with no more toys left to throw out of the pram there is nothing left to do but to grin and bear it. Defence will get a look in when questions over tanker refuelling aircraft are raised, when the current position of the A400M development is discussed, and when aircraft like the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are discussed. But for now, with defence cuts the only thing on most people’s lips and excitement related to defence restricted to exports to the parts of the world that are not experiencing similar economic problems right now, it is best not to expect that the defence sector will provide exciting news for Paris delegates next week.
The Paris Air Show will be exciting of course – it’s always no matter whether it’s dominated by Boeing and Airbus or not. The importance of networking by industry and the benefits that brings should never be lost on those looking for reasons why shows like this still exist. Paris, just like Farnborough, is a place to show off rather than gloat. For small and large, for thick and thin and large and stout there will be something for everyone. And hopefully if the past is anything to go by, new ideas and partnerships will be born whose benefits will grace Paris and Farnborough Air Shows for decades to come.
And what will the hot debate be? Will it be questioning whether the Boeing 787 will arrive at its first customer later this year or whether the A350 XWB will face some delays? Or maybe it’ll be whether Boeing will replace the venerable 737, which is after all still the best selling aircraft of all time? Other questions could include how the A320-NEO will do, how Bombardier and Embraer will do in the smaller narrow body market? All will feature of course along with questions for Airbus on long term A380 success. I doubt that the longer term threat to the likes of Boeing and Airbus from China, Russia and elsewhere will be hidden under the Paris carpet either. A bit of everything can be expected then, together with a touch of debate on aircraft subsidies thrown in for good measure. The bottom line though is that unlike two years ago, this Paris Air Show will be a toast to recovery and justified success of an industry that has more than nine lives.
CHW – London – 13 June 2011
Howard Wheeldon is the Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
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