The Airbus A380 will be the centrepiece of this year's Paris air show, but the industry is approaching the event in a far more optimistic mood than it did in 2003

Two years ago, the Paris air show was all about saying farewell to Europe's most ambitious aerospace project, Concorde. Next month at Le Bourget, France's political elite will line up to welcome the new symbol of the continent's high-flying aspirations, the Airbus A380. The ultra-large airliner is certain to be the talk of the 46th Paris show, but it is not clear whether it will actually take part in the air display.

Much depends on the already-delayed flight test schedule. However, do not be surprised if Airbus and its customers use the occasion to announce further additions to the current tally of 154 orders.

The giant double-decker will not be the only debutant at this year's event, which, in response to pressure from exhibitors, organiser Gifas has shortened to four trade and three public days, starting on Monday 13 June. Dassault's Bordeaux-built, long-range Falcon 7X flagship business jet, which flew for the first time this month, will appear in front of its home crowd. Joining it from the world of business aircraft will be one of its direct North American competitors, the Gulfstream G550, along with the smaller G450. Other aircraft making their first Paris appearance include the Aermacchi M346 advanced jet trainer, now in the running for a number of key contests including the multinational Eurotraining scheme, and the Embraer 195, the largest addition to the Brazilian manufacturer's regional jet family.

This year's show takes place against a more optimistic industry backdrop than 2003. Not only was aviation's centenary a low point for airliner and business jet orders and deliveries, but Le Bourget was dealt a blow by a US defence establishment furious at France's lack of support for the Iraq war. Although there were few last-minute pull-outs, several big companies, along with the US defence department and air force, significantly downgraded their presence. At times the atmosphere resembled a family wedding where feuding divorced parents have had to bury their differences for the sake of appearances. Louis Le Portz, commissaire general of the show, admits there were fewer transatlantic exhibitors in 2003 than in 2001, but insists US exhibitors are back in force for 2005. "We do not see any problem with our relationship with US industry or government," he says.

Grabbing the glory

One of the US companies that will be pulling out the marketing stops this year is Boeing. Its commercial aircraft division will be doing its best to stop its European rival grabbing all the glory, with supplier – and maybe new order – announcements for the 787 and a possible launch for the 747 Advanced. A flurry of recent large orders, including from Air Canada and Air India, and the hugely successful launch of the 787 have given the manufacturer a new zest after a spate of boardroom problems and three years of lacklustre performance in the market. Its executives will probably arrive in Paris more happy about life than for some time. Boeing will also hope an appearance at the show will kickstart the so-far sluggish sales of the 777-200LR. The tanker version of the 767, soon to be delivered to Italy, will be on display too. However, with a major order from the USA still looking precarious, Paris could be the swansong show for the widebody twinjet.

There will be a number of additions to the exhibition halls. For the first time, an area has been set aside for European small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). The 4,000m2 (43,000ft2) pavilion, at the centre of the new Hall 4/5, will group SMEs together by geographic region, including Andalucia in Spain, Hamburg in Germany and south-west France.

Local SME associations – supported by regional governments and chambers of commerce – are assuming a more important co-ordination, educational and marketing role in the industry as large manufacturers look to push more high-value work further down the supply chain. Seven of these UK organisations will this year share the Society of British Aerospace Companies stand in Hall 2. "All the regions are trying to reinforce the presence of their SMEs," says Le Portz. "It's very important to keep a good network of small businesses for European industry."

The unmanned air vehicle sector will have its own significant presence, with 15 exhibitors in a pavilion hosted by two associations, AUVSI and UVS International. Among the UAV highlights at Paris is likely to be the unveiling of a new configuration for Neuron, the Dassault-led European unmanned combat air vehicle project. There will also be confirmation that programme management of Euromale, the EADS-led medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, is to transfer from French procurement agency DGA to its Europe-wide equivalent, OCCAR. Some announcements on small tactical UAVs are also likely. There had been a possibility of a UAV flying demonstration at the show, but the idea was vetoed by civil aviation authorities. Gifas remains confident that UAVs will fly at Le Bourget in 2007.

Middle Eastern countries will be represented in a new pavilion hosted by the organisers of the Dubai air show. Countries exhibiting for the first time include Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Slovakia. China, Turkey and Ukraine have all increased their footprint, says Gifas. Another addition to the 2005 show will be a 10,000m2 outdoor area for light aircraft on the public days. Rising costs and lack of space in the regular halls have deterred the recreational flying community from exhibiting at Le Bourget in recent years, says Le Portz. "This year we have lowered the cost. We want to do something to encourage flying for pleasure among the public."

Gifas expects a total of 1,800 exhibitors – slightly up on 2003. There will also be more chalets – 512, compared with 486 last time. As ever, France's big political guns will be supporting the show, with president Jacques Chirac conducting the opening ceremony on 13 June and prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin visiting Le Bourget on 18 June.

Strategy update

As ever, the Paris show will provide a platform for manufacturers to update the world's press on programmes and strategy. EADS-owned Eurocopter is expected to formally sign a contract with Australia for 12 MRH-90 trooplift helicopters. Lockheed Martin will talk about progress on F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assembly ahead of its first flight in the second half of next year. Safran – the new name of the merged Snecma and Sagem – will make its first air show appearance, and Italy's Finmeccanica is expected to announce a major rebranding to bring together its growing portfolio of aerospace businesses, which include Aermacchi, AgustaWestland and Alenia Aeronautica. The company is also likely to confirm that its new strategy will see it focus strongly on the US and UK defence markets.

Among the many evening events, Flight International's Aerospace Industry Awards will honour the year's top-performing technologies, individuals and businesses. The event takes place at the Pavillon D'Armenonville on 13 June. See for details.

The Paris air show will provide this year's best snapshot of the industry's health. Many will be looking for signs that civil aerospace in particular has climbed out of its post-9/11 torpor. A series of orders, programme announcements and strong financial results from certain airlines suggest the industry may be on approach to Le Bourget in a more robust condition than for many years.


Source: Flight International