Show organisers are putting a brave face on the reduced participation by US companies at Le Bourget.

Speaking at a pre-show conference, Commissioner-General Yves Bonnet said he believed that the difference of numbers - 183 US exhibitors compared with more than 350 two years ago - was due purely to economic reasons and not political.


Asked whether he felt the fact that no US military aircraft - or indeed any American aircraft at all - were taking part in the flying display for the first time in 50 years was also due to economic reasons, he said: "I cannot speculate. I can only deal in facts and the fact is I have not been told of any political reason why organisations are not here."

The US Department of Defense stipulated that no military personnel above the rank of colonel would be attending the show - a move that has privately angered some US aerospace industry representatives, who see it as a negative step.

But it is not just the Americans who are stepping back. Bonnet said Russian military aircraft would also be missing from the show due to legal reasons. Two years ago some Russian aircraft were impounded on instructions from the French courts over unsettled debts and there were fears that the same would happen this year. There is no denying the frost in transatlantic relations following France's refusal to join the USA in Iraq. Pentagon adviser Richard Perle was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying the crisis in relations could not be dealt with in the "normal diplomatic way" because anti-French feeling now ran very deep in US society


As Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it when he addressed the US senate: "I think France is going to pay some consequences, not just with us, but with other countries who view it that way."

US companies such as Cessna, Gulfstream, Textron and L3 Communications have elected not to have a presence at Le Bourget and others - particularly those with major defence contracts - have admitted privately to pressure from US government officials to scale down their normal involvement.

However, others such as Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and Boeing are maintaining a high level presence.

The missing military aircraft may be a let-down for showgoers, but it's good news for local residents. Says Bonnet: "There have been a lot of complaints about noise in the past. This year the show will be much quieter and our neighbours will be happier."

The organisers already fund trips for more than 1,000 local schoolchildren to theme parks and country retreats during the week of the show so their lessons are not disrupted by the display.

The display itself has been cut back in time. But overall Bonnet expects the show to go a step beyond the 1999 Le Bourget success. "We must remember that 2001 was a record year. We are not going to repeat that but we do have growth over 1999 which, at the time, was heralded as a great success."

Twelve countries have increased their space. Italy has grown by 30% while China and Korea have more than doubled their involvement.

There are 38 countries represented at the show compared with 41 two years ago.

There are 482 chalets compared with 504 and 51,600m2 of hall space compared with 52,600m2 in 2001. There are 201 aircraft on display, 25 fewer than at the last le Bourget.

Source: Flight Daily News