As it prepares for its biggest shake-up since the Second World War, the French aerospace industry has revealed a significant improvement in performance for 1996, with sales growing by more than 7% and a similar improvement forecast for this year.

The growth was led by airframe manufacturing, with a 9.7% rise in sales, reflecting the boom in civil-aircraft markets and was twice as fast as in the equipment and engines sectors. For the second year running, new orders grew by 13.5%, to Fr118 billion ($20 billion), rising comfortably ahead of industry sales at Fr108 billion.

Civil orders were up by nearly 29%. In contrast, military business slumped by 9.6%, reflecting the continuing shrinkage in the national defence budget, which was down by more than one-quarter over the year. Civil sales today account for 59% of the total industry compared with just one-third ten years ago, when the defence business was still buoyed by the Cold War.

Foreign orders for French military equipment increased by 38.6%, however, largely because of increased sales of Eurocopter helicopters and their engines.

Gifas president Serge Dassault says that the major members of the trade association were dependent on foreign customers for 65% of their orders in 1996, a fact which he describes as "a pity".

Much of the improvement came about because of the delivery of the first of 60 Dassault Mirage 2000-5s to Taiwan, along with associated Mica missiles.

The industry now employs around 96,000 people, a reduction of 1,500 staff compared to 1995, indicating, says Dassault, "a major increase in productivity".

Dassault also confirmed at the presentation that Dassault and Aerospatiale, which are themselves due to merge, have joined with Alcatel Alsthom in its bid to win the re-run of the Thomson-CSF privatisation.

Source: Flight International