Hot, noisy, exhaustingly hard to get around and expensive to attend, the Paris air show has its critics. It probably has since the first salon in 1909 when the pioneers of aviation gathered at the Grand Palais to display their inventions and debate their potential to revolutionise travel, commerce and warfare.
Although powered flight had been achieved with the Wrights six years earlier, the idea that aviation could be anything other than a pastime for the rich was a new one. The Paris air show and magazines such as Flight International(launched as Flight in January that year) introduced the concept that making flying machines could become a lucrative business and the aerospace industry was born.
The grande dame of air shows - which celebrates its centenary this year - remains the biggest biennial stage for the global aerospace industry. A potential marketplace of more than 150,000 trade visitors from virtually every country that flies or builds parts for aircraft makes Le Bourget a must-attend as much for the small Canadian or Korean component supplier as for Airbus and Boeing. As with Farnborough and the other big air shows it has its enthusiast side, the final Friday to Sunday being public days. This year's focus is very much a celebration of 100 years of aviation.
Despite the world recession, the organisers are claiming next week's show, which opens its doors on 15 June, has been sold out for weeks, with exhibitors - from 42 nations - topping the 2,000 mark for the first time. There are 27 national pavilions, with countries including Australia, Lithuania, Libya, Mexico and Tunisia making their debut as branded "clusters". The effect of the downturn, however, could be felt in terms of trade visitor numbers this year. Several big exhibitors are cutting back on headcounts, some reportedly by as much a half. However, with few key executives likely to pull out, the organisers will insist that quality, rather than quantity, of visitors has been maintained.
The aircraft line-up is also short of star turns, exceptions being the debut of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet and two US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22s, one of which will take part in the flying display. The Schiebel Camcopter unmanned helicopter will also become the first unmanned air vehicle to fly at a major air show, say the organisers. Other notable types on show will include Airbus's A380 - less of a head-turner now that it is in regular airline service than when it made its maiden appearance in 2005 - Diamond's D-Jet and DA42 MPP surveillance aircraft, and the Dassault Rafale. Despite hopes it could make a last-minute visit, Boeing's delay-plagued 787 will not join them.
While inspecting aircraft on the ground and watching them displaying their prowess in the air is always a highlight, the main purpose of attending a show like Paris is networking. Over the course of the week, tens of thousands of business meetings will take place not only in the chalets of the big exhibitors, but between small and medium-size enterprises and original equipment manufacturers. One feature of the show, introduced in 2007, is a room set aside from Tuesday to Thursday for manufacturer presentations, seminars and a series of one-to-one "speed dating" presentations, which allow small suppliers to pitch to potential prime contractor customers. Last time, around 6,000 of these meetings took place between 400 SMEs and 100 prime contractors.
The show is open from 09.30 to 18.00 each day and trade visitor passes can be bought at the show for €42 ($59) or €32 by pre-registering on the web site. Uniformed members of the military can attend for free, as can members of the Aero Club of France.