Fallout from the Iraq conflict and SARS has hit bookings at the Paris air show, which runs from 15 to 22 June and celebrates 100 years of aviation

A sharply reduced US defence industry presence and continuing fears over the knock-on effects of the Iraq war and the SARS virus have left this year's Paris air show with reduced bookings compared with the 2001 event.

Organiser Salon International de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (SIAE ) insists that exhibitors are undeterred, while admitting that bookings for both the static display area and the number of stands are about 5% down against the record amount of exhibition space sold in 2001.

In what will be seen as a clear retaliation for France's refusal to support the Iraq war, the US Department of Defense (DoD) is scaling back the participation of US military personnel and equipment (Flight International, 22-28 April). Many US companies are also reconsidering their level of participation, although SIAE insists that none of those present in 2001 have pulled out apart from Bell Helicopter, which it says is absent because of "financial difficulties".

Some US Congressmen, such as Representative Jim Saxon, had wanted to veto participation by US industry, but failed to convince Congress of a strong enough case. Instead, the DoD is limiting attendance by higher level personnel including, for example, programme executive officers, generals, flag officers and secretaries of the US Army, Navy and Air Force.

Fears that countries affected by the SARS virus would cancel their participation have not been borne out. SIAE says: "We will of course have specific medical controls for the 30 or so exhibitors from South-East Asia and Toronto and the 2,000 visitors we expect from these regions, but we will certainly not forbid them from attending."

SIAE says it will meet 95% of the 2001 figures, with about 100,000m2 (1 million ft2) of indoor and outdoor stands (115,113m2 in 2001) and 180,000m2 for the static aircraft display (192,000m2 in 2001).

Centenary celebrations

The US moves have not affected the show's Franco-American theme, celebrating the 100th anniversary of aviation with 17 historic aircraft on show, 10 of which are American. Eleven will fly on the public days (15, 21 and 22 June), while two Wright Flyers, the Blériot XI (1909), the Morane Saulnier Type H (1913), one of the two Fouga Magisters and the Mystère 20 will be presented as static displays.

Air France has yet to respond to a request from the organisers to keep Concorde out of mothballs for an extra three weeks to enable the supersonic airliner to make its farewell flight at the airshow on the second weekend. They say that while the request "was met with enthusiasm", the airline points out that the recent decision to stop Concorde operations means it would have to create specific support logistics just for the show.

For the first time, this year's show will see exhibitors group around specific themes or sectors of activity. "We feel this increases the visibility, notably of small and medium enterprises," says SIAE. There will be 12 themes, split into groups of three across Halls 2, 4, 5A and 5B. These will range from aircraft construction and assembly to airport-related sectors, ground and airborne weapons systems and mechanical and metalwork sub-contracting. Each sector will have its own conference and business meeting rooms.

Chinese presence

China will attend for the first time as a manufacturer instead of a government or export agency. There will be four groups: China Aviation Industry (AVIC) I and II, China Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry (CASIC). AVIC I will display a full-sized model of the ARJ21, the regional aircraft it is developing.

South Korea, only symbolically represented at the last show, will be back with Korea Aerospace Industries, the result of the merger of the aerospace activities of Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung.

Eastern Europe is also strengthening its presence, with the Ukraine, for example, not only represented by Antonov but deploying a whole pavilion of subcontractors in Hall 5A.

Discussions at Paris are likely to centre on the effects of the Iraq war, particularly on defence contracting, as well as the seismic changes running through the airline industry and how they will affect the orderbooks of Airbus and Boeing. The space sector will also come under scrutiny because this is probably the last Paris show where more than two European satellite manufacturers will be present. By the 2005 event, the chances are that EADS Astrium and Alcatel will have closed ranks, leaving only one other, Italy's Finmeccanica.

Among the aircraft manufacturers, there will be the usual fierce competition between Boeing and Airbus over who can clock up the most orders. Orders are expected from Emirates and Qatar, and possibly from Air India, whose last sizeable order for new aircraft was over a decade ago. The carrier has sought Indian government approval to order 43 Airbus A320s, and a decision by its board is imminent over whether to choose 17 Airbus A340-300s or Boeing 777-200ERs.

Aer Lingus is due to choose between the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800 and is in talks with both manufacturers for a deal for up to 30 aircraft. Czech carrier CSA says it will finalise its widebody fleet renewal plans in the next two months. It is studying the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767.

In the regional aircraft sector, Bombardier and Embraer are slogging it out over All Nippon Airways' expected decision on 12 to 15 regional jets which could be announced at the show.

By the time the show opens, Airbus Military plans to have signed the industrial contract for production of 180 A400M military transport aircraft with OCCAR, the pan-European procurement agency acting on behalf of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK. The programme was launched at the 2001 show in the presence of the seven defence ministers concerned, but industrial launch is likely to take place before the show, the French defence ministry having said there are no plans for an official event at government level concerning the A400M at Paris.

New combat aircraft orders are unlikely, but the Czech Republic is shopping for 14 second-hand fighters after cancelling a deal for 24 Saab/BAE Systems Gripens last November. It has been evaluating Lockheed Martin F-16s from Belgium, Israel and Turkey, the Canadian Forces' Boeing CF-18s and, most recently, the UK Royal Air Force's Panavia Tornado F3s. Meanwhile, Austria has confirmed its selection of the Eurofighter Typhoon and may sign the contract at the show.

Company announcements

Spain may also use the show as a platform to announce its long-awaited decision on attack helicopters. It has been considering the Boeing Apache and the Eurocopter Tiger but may opt for both. Singapore, meanwhile, is seeking a shipborne vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle, a contract likely to be contested by Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

The show will reveal whether US exporters are being hit by political flak from the Iraq conflict. Neil Hampson, associate partner at strategy consultancy Roland Berger, says: "It's possible that anti-Americanism will be hitting the sales of American companies."

But the operation in Iraq is also likely to give short-term impetus for manufacturers supplying equipment and parts to the military. Hampson says optimism among defence suppliers is based on expectations of a healthy aftermarket rather than any boost for original equipment.

Those travelling to the show by road should benefit from recent roadworks at Le Bourget aimed at "limiting the queues of cars", says SIAE. Whether this is borne out on the opening day remains to be seen.

Source: Flight International