What a difference four years makes. Back at the most recent edition of the Paris air show in 2019, the Boeing 737 Max was still grounded, the air taxi industry was more or less a twinkle in someone’s eye, and Airbus had yet to advance its decarbonisation strategy much beyond the E-Fan X.
We all know what happened next.
And while the Covid-19 pandemic has gone away – even if variants of the virus are still in circulation – its effects linger.
Thus it is, as the industry prepares to gather with the return of the Le Bourget show later in June, that while the talk is of growth and booming demand, achieving the desired expansion is proving anything but straightforward.
Rather than the slick, smooth-running vehicle we saw pre-Covid, the industry now seems to resemble an engine in need of overhaul; there is thrust – but not as much as needed – and reliability is increasingly suspect.
Unfortunately, the aerospace industry sits at the overlapping centre of a Venn diagram of global issues. These are conspiring to cause persistent shortages of a variety of commodities: people, parts, and raw materials.
As far as can be ascertained, these will linger until at least 2024 but it would be no surprise to see the situation drag on for another 12 months beyond that. Expect debate at Paris as to how the industry moves forward.
If supply chain headaches are a short-term issue that will be fixed eventually, the sector’s longer-term decarbonisation challenge appears much more intractable.
Back in 2019 the issue was present but not so pressing. Since then, however, public perception has shifted, and the industry has a taxing target to hit by 2050.
How that will be achieved remains unclear but as is increasingly evident, in the first instance, a ramp-up of sustainable aviation fuel production will be required.
Further out, no-one is entirely sure. There are many promising technologies, some more promising than others, but none that are, as yet, definitely going to make the grade.
Either way, decarbonisation is likely to dominate the conversation at Paris.
Elsewhere, the war in Ukraine will ensure that defence spending remains a hot topic; it may even ensure the tri-national Future Combat Air System programme is marked by less fractiousness between its partners then previously.
Additionally, there is the question of whether we will see the jumbo airline orders of previous air shows. Narrowbody backlogs stretching into the far distance will temper this somewhat, and much depends on the willingness of the big two airframers to play the game.
But this is Paris – Airbus’s home turf – and a city more known for celebrating joie de vivre than for sober restraint.