With European aerospace in a much stronger global position than in 1999, Le Bourget is set for its busiest show to date

Julian Moxon/PARIS

Two years ago the Paris air show revealed the first droplets of the tidal wave of restructuring that was to transform the European aerospace industry from a collection of nationally based companies into two pan-European entities, EADS and BAE Systems.


Aerospatiale Matra was exhibiting for the first time as a single company following its merger; DaimlerChrysler had taken over CASA; and British Aerospace, in a move that seemed to leave Germany out in the cold, had won control of Marconi and was on course to become BAE Systems. But the process of transforming Airbus Industrie into a single corporate entity was stalled and the German Government warned at the show that it would not fund the A3XX - now the A380 - until the problems were resolved.

There was no obvious solution to transforming Airbus into a company. The four partners in the loose grouping making up the Toulouse-based consortium had been reduced to three with the DASA/CASA merger, but the main stumbling block - solving the financial issues posed by three partners, two state-owned and one privatised, in three countries - seemed almost insoluble.

Then, at a stroke, France and Germany linked to form EADS, which came to life last July. Suddenly, there were just two partners in Airbus and the way was clear for creation of the Airbus Integrated Company, which was announced in January. The move also cleared the way for the A380's launch last December. Since then airlines have signed up for 66 firm orders and optioned 54 A380s and may well commit to more at Paris.

Le Bourget will therefore be the first major show at which Airbus as a single entity can talk about the A380 as a launched programme, the first at which the European restructuring dilemma is not an issue and - last but not least if you are an exhibitor - the first at which the exhibition halls will be air conditioned.

So what will there be to talk about at the 44th Paris air show?

French industry chief and Snecma president Jean-Paul Béchat has no doubt that European industry is on a roll after the unlocking of the restructuring process through EADS' creation. "We are faced with incredible opportunities, not only because of Airbus' success but following the consolidation, which strengthens Europe's position on the global market," he says.

Moves to increase EADS' presence in the UK and USA are in line with the company's aim of boosting defence electronics exports to provide a wider international dimension than the French and German markets which now form the backbone of its business. The company's missiles unit will be a key player in expanded European missile house MBDA, comprising Matra BAe Dynamics and the missiles business of Alenia Marconi Systems. Its formation had been delayed but is likely to be completed by the time of the air show. This will lead naturally to the next step: bringing the German missile industry into the MBDA camp.

Further rationalising

Béchat believes Europe "still has further to go" in rationalising its industry, particularly the equipment sector, where extensive moves in France since the last Paris show have included Snecma's take-over of Turboméca, creating a single French engine manufacturer.Snecma also acquired Hurel-Dubois, which it subsequently merged with Hispano-Suiza to create Hurel-Hispano, the world's third largest nacelles manufacturer. Another new name is Thales, the former Thomson-CSF, which comes to the show having formed a major air defence partnership with Raytheon, to be called Thales Raytheon Systems. French optronics, navigation and electronics companies Sfim and Sagem have also merged, and Intertechnique has been taken over by the Zodiac Group. "Between these groups there is still room for movement," says Béchat. "But is has to be on a European scale. In France the frontiers are now clarified."

Béchat will soon take over the leadership of Aecma, the Brussels-based European aerospace industries association, and has already been involved in moves with senior US industry executives to discuss transatlantic co-operation issues - likely to be a major theme at Le Bourget. "The problem with alliances is that they must be constructed harmoniously. There has to be equilibrium - of know-how, financial resources and size. If one has the money and the other the know how, the partnership won't work," he says.

He says the main thing is to "know where the programmes are", pointing to the International Space Station as a perfect example of an area where funding requirements were so big that co-operation was inevitable. "Now we're looking at air traffic management. It's a clear candidate for transatlantic co-operation."

Discussion at Le Bourget will also centre on the rapidly changing world of commercial aircraft manufacturing. Attendees will be questioning whether Boeing's unveiling of the Sonic Cruiser is simply a cover for dropping the 747X and ceding the mega-jumbo market to the Airbus A380. Both companies will no doubt produce figures at the show to justify their differing analyses of the market size for such aircraft. It could be argued the long-term health of both manufacturers rests on whether they have made the right calculations.

Boeing's decision not to compete head-on with Airbus for the ultra-large aircraft market has already eased transatlantic tensions, which had been rising in the wake of disputes over subsidies, hushkits and other trade issues.

"The tone of discussions between the USA and Europe is changing," says John Douglass, president of the US Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). Although the USA remains concerned about European government subsidies for Airbus product development, the fact that the A380 and Sonic Cruiser are "different approaches to the future" has taken much of the heat out of the debate.

At the same time, the rhetoric surrounding Europe's ban on hushkitted aircraft has toned down. The debate has moved to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - the appropriate venue, in Douglass' view. The USA remains concerned that Europe's environmental lobby may yet try to impose tougher noise rules unilaterally, rather than accept the Stage 4 limits drawn up by ICAO and supported by the USA.

Despite these areas of continuing concern, the atmosphere of transatlantic trade relations is improving. "There is a willingness to listen to the other point of view," says Douglass. "We are focusing more on working our own problems rather than telling them [the Europeans] their business."

The number one issue for US industry is how the new Bush Administration will impact aerospace. Le Bourget may provide a venue for clarification of which US defence programmes are likely to win support and which will not. The future of one programme, the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor, which had been due to fly at the show (and previously at Farnborough 2000, where its appearance was cancelled), now hangs in the balance following several accidents.

On the military side, Le Bourget will almost certainly see the long-awaited launch of Airbus' A400M military transport. Such a move would end years of uncertainty and begin a seven-nation programme that will see Europe achieve independence from the USA for its medium transport requirements.

The battle to win combat aircraft orders continues and the recent EADS decision to provide more support for Eurofighter in at least some of its export campaigns will not ease relations with Rafale developer Dassault, in which EADS has a 46% stake. Both Dassault and Eurofighter are fighting for contracts in South Korea, which is expected to select a fighter before the end of the year, while Poland or Hungary may yet spring a decision on their combat aircraft choice at Le Bourget.

Another major European milestone could come with the signature of the six-nation contract to develop the Meteor ramjet-powered beyond visual range air-to-air missile. This could unlock a Boeing initiative to develop a derivative of the missile to meet a US Navy requirement for an air-defence suppression weapon.

On the general aviation front one of the most exciting developments is likely to come from Dassault as it reveals plans for a new range of business jets to replace the Falcon family. The first member, the successor to the top-of-the-range Falcon 900, will be announced at the show, to be followed later by replacements for the mid-size Falcon 50 and super mid-size Falcon 2000. The choice of engine supplier is also likely to be revealed.

The Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber will make its second appearance at the show, while Airbus will fly the world's longest civil transport, the A340-600, which had its maiden flight in April. Antonov plans to bring its own monster, the six-engined An-225, and the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle is expected to arrive at the show after an autonomous transatlantic flight to Le Bourget.


If reservations are anything to go by, the show will be easily the busiest ever. For the first time, the full quota of chalets has been snapped up, forcing the organisers to find space for more - all of which have been taken already. Demand for hall space has also exceeded the 52,000m² (560,000ft²) capacity. A new dimension comes with the debut of a sectorised international "Global Solutions" pavilion focusing primarily on leading-edge aerospace technologies. The 4,000m² hall will showcase developments from around 100 companies and will feature daily presentations by industry leaders on industry trends.

44th International Paris Air Show

Source: Flight International