x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

All eyes on the skies in Paris

The Paris Air Show kicks off today with eco-friendly "green" planes vying with next-generation fighter jets to win the biggest plaudits.

The new Boeing 747-8 is a new entrant at the Paris Air Show, which begins today. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
The new Boeing 747-8 is a new entrant at the Paris Air Show, which begins today. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

The Paris Air Show, the world's oldest and largest marketing event for the aviation industry, kicks off today with eco-friendly "green" planes vying with next-generation fighter jets to win the biggest plaudits.

The flying displays of the latest and greatest jets will provide a welcome distraction for an industry battling with high fuel prices for commercial airlines and slimming defence budgets for military aircraft.

Airbus, on its home turf, is expected to dominate the headlines with its announcement of up to several hundred orders for its new A320neo, which incorporates a fuel-efficient engine to refresh its long-standing single-aisle A320. Qatar Airways is among the airlines expected to announce orders.

On the defence side, the chiefs of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Boeing Defense, Space & Security are all skipping the air show this year amid an industry-wide belt tightening.

"Tumbling defence spending across Europe and the US is putting company revenues under pressure, causing them to slash discretionary spending on things like exhibitions," said Andrew Chuter of Defense News.

Even Gulf companies such as Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Mubadala Development, which traditionally announce their latest plans at the air show, are all breaking with tradition and will have only limited presences at the week-long event. Mubadala is a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

"This year Mubadala Aerospace will not have a major presence at the Paris Air Show, as we are focusing on our participation at the Dubai Air Show," a company spokeswoman said. Emirates is also targeting the Dubai event in November to announce another aircraft order.

Organisers of the Paris Air Show say there will be a record 2,100 exhibitors from 80 countries this year, but most have reduced their presences by up to 30 per cent compared with the last show in 2009. The show began in 1909 and runs every two years, alternating with the Farnborough International Airshow in England as the aerospace industry's annual summer gathering.

The Solar Impulse aircraft, a Swiss project that aims to circumnavigate the globe using solar energy, will make its first appearance at the show this year.

The craft will stand shoulder to shoulder with other new entrants at the show's Le Bourget site, on the outskirts of Paris, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and two examples of Boeing's updated jumbo jet, the 747-8. One of the jumbo jets flew across the Atlantic Ocean with a blend of regular fuel and biofuel. Another firm, Honeywell, also flew a business jet to the show with a 50 per cent biofuel to market its "green fuel" credentials.

Jet fuel is an increasing worry for airlines, which made US$18 billion (Dh66.11bn) in earnings last year but will reap only $4bn this year because of higher energy prices and recent economic shocks, according to the International Air Transport Association. This comes after carriers lost more than $25bn between 2008 and 2009.

"The market is dynamic and definitely on the right track," an upbeat Louis Gallois, the chief executive of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, said last week. "Traffic is good and airlines are in a better financial situation."

Qatar Airways is expected to sign new contracts with Airbus and Boeing. It has been in discussions with Boeing for more wide-bodied jets such as the 777, and with Airbus for more A380 superjumbos and the A320neo.

However, an Airbus executive said this month that negotiations had not been concluded and "maybe Le Bourget is too early" for the deal to be announced.

igale@thenational.ae