The air transport industry descends on Paris for the biennial air show with few signs that aircraft order activity will match the high levels seen two years ago.
Aircraft manufacturers disclosed airline and lessor order commitments for just under 1,000 aircraft – including 428 firm orders – at the 2015 Paris air show. Additionally, 224 options were spanned by deals outlined during that show.
This marked the third consecutive time that order-commitment announcements at one of the industry's two biennial air shows exceeded the 1,000 mark – though that does include some firming-up of previously announced preliminary deals – after significant orders were racked up during the previous Paris air show and Farnborough 2014. Sandwiched in-between were huge orders from the Gulf carriers unveiled at the 2013 Dubai air show.
Against this backdrop of record order backlogs, and with little near-term availability of slots for most of the major programmes, an easing-off in the relentless order pace has seemed likely.
That process began at last year's Farnborough air show. Aside from the AirAsia commitment for up to 200 Airbus A321neos, it was a relatively quiet show for order announcements. Total order commitments unveiled at the show – both firm and tentative – stood at 607. There were also 135 options.
Speaking at a media briefing during the IATA AGM in Cancun earlier this month, Airbus's chief operating officer for customers John Leahy said the next few years were likely to be relatively quiet, as airlines focus on digesting their large volume of orders.
"We have a backlog right now which is a record not only for Airbus but the industry ever. The airlines have to slow down their ordering, take a breath and start absorbing the airplanes that they ordered," he says.
"This could last a year or two, which is not an issue."
Asked specifically about the expectations for Paris, Leahy coyly said: "We're not expecting a record number of new orders." But he would not be drawn further on how many orders might be announced at the show or who might place them.
However, he believes Boeing may see a bump in orders at the show if it chooses to use the event to launch the 737 Max 10X. Indonesian carrier Lion Air is among those heavily tipped as possible launch customers for Boeing's proposed double-stretch of its re-engined single-aisle aircraft. United Airlines, Norwegian, SpiceJet and Ryanair are also among those linked with possible interest.
But some of the commitments for the aircraft, which if launched would be set to enter service in 2020, could take the form of conversions of existing orders rather than fresh business. Either way, Boeing will be giving another Max model – the 9 – a Le Bourget debut.
In the widebody arena, key programmes are in need of kick-starting. Boeing has secured only Singapore Airlines as a new 777X customer since the last Paris air show, while for Airbus's A380 a well-documented drought continues. Since lessor Amedeo firmed a 20-unit deal back in February 2014, the double-decker has had more cancellations (12) than new orders (five).
Elaboration of future programmes could fill any space created by lack of order activity. Boeing may share more details – and perhaps a mocked-up image – of its New Midsized Aircraft. That prospect could tempt Airbus to share findings from its own middle-of-the-market investigations, whether or not those include the rumoured "A322" stretch of its A321. In Toulouse earlier this month, Leahy indicated his belief that 400-500nm more range can be squeezed out of the A321neo, beyond the 4,000nm promised by the A321LR.
Back in the present day, Airbus could add momentum to its A330neo programme with new deals, and will be showing off its A350-1000. Boeing will meanwhile have its 787-10 on static display.
Much of the business placed at the recent order peak of the air shows came from aircraft lessors – for example, around a third of the order commitments from the Paris air show two years ago were from lessors. But armed with their substantial orderbooks, there was relatively little activity from this sector at Farnborough last year, and few signs so far suggest things will be different at Paris this year.
One lessor that placed an order at Le Bourget last time out has already ruled out any prospect of a repeat this year, namely SMBC Aviation Capital. "Obviously we have a good relationships with the OEMs, and stay in regular contact, but we are happy with our orderbook at the moment, particularity our commitments to the Neo and the Max," chief executive Peter Barrett told FlightGlobal.
Neither is there much sign of heavy order activity from aircraft manufacturers beyond Airbus and Boeing, though Bombardier will be looking to come out fighting after the US Trade Commission recently handed down an unfavourable ruling in the dispute over CSeries funding and sales tactics.
Embraer will meanwhile be hopeful of adding to its 275 total orders for the E2 E-Jets – which would account for less than three years of production, at last year's rate of output – with US scope-clause changes having given the E175-E2 impetus.
The Brazilian manufacturer may also share more of its thinking on the viability of a new-generation turboprop, having recently identified a potential market for one. And perhaps we might learn whether Lockheed Martin's adaptation of the Super Hercules into a commercial freighter, the LM-100J, is tempting Embraer to pursue a similar strategy with the KC-390.
Embraer's commercial aviation chief executive John Slattery recently labelled ATR turboprops "old technology", but the Airbus-Leonardo joint venture is set to confirm new operators at the show, start-up Air Senegal among them.
Japan's Mitsubishi Aircraft will showcase its MRJ regional jet at an air show for the first time, as it tries to instil confidence in the programme after multiple delays.
Comac is unlikely to be signing any orders for the C919 at the show. The Chinese manufacturer's focus at Paris, is to meet with various suppliers for both the in-development narrowbody, as well as the Sino-Russia widebody project.
With production rates rising and backlogs full, net orders for Airbus and Boeing this year are unlikely to exceed the total number of deliveries. Guidance issued in February indicates that the two major manufacturers will deliver close to 1,500 aircraft in 2017, suggesting that they are likely, at best, to only slightly exceed their 2016 combined tally of 1,400 net orders.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows there have been 356 commercial aircraft orders logged over the first five months of the year, including 240 narrowbodies and 74 widebodies.
Source: Cirium Dashboard