WASHINGTON — While the F-35 won't be making an appearance at the Paris Air Show this year, the French aerospace organization planning the event did extend an invitation to the U.S. government in the hopes of getting the joint strike fighter to fly.
In a letter dated Sept. 16, 2016, SIAE — the organization that puts together the Paris Air Show — made a formal request for the United States to conduct a flying demonstration of the F-35 and V-22 during the event this June. Defense News obtained a copy of the invitation, which was sent to Jane Hartley, the former U.S. ambassador to France.
The letter casts doubt on early reports, including one by Defense News, that suggested that the French government was not interested in hosting an F-35 demonstration. Those reports were based on statements by the F-35 joint program executive office, which had no knowledge of an invitation. Instead, SIAE spends the majority of the letter highlighting reasons for the U.S. government to send the plane.
"Five European countries are committed to the F-35 (Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and the U.K.," it states. "Turkey is also a partner, and there are a number of countries from around the world that are also purchasing or considering the F-35. All of them send very high level delegations to Paris."
The invite also points out that the flying at the air show would be "good publicity, both internationally and within the U.S., where the public reads about the F-35 but may not be aware of how important it is internationally."
Apart from the invitation, SIAE held three meetings with U.S. government representatives at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and even traveled to the United States twice to discuss the prospect of a flying display, said Christophe Robin, the communications director for GIFAS, the French aerospace industry association and parent organization of SIAE.
"The Aerospace Industries Association, our counterpart in the USA, is very supportive to the idea and is still doing its best to make the F-35 at the Paris Air Show a reality," he said in an email.
The Paris Air Show, held at Le Bourget Airport, is the world's largest event of its kind, held on alternating years with the Farnborough International Airshow in England. The F-35B made its debut at Farnborough last year, and both the "B" and "A" model flew at the Royal International Air Tattoo in the country days before that.
On Wednesday, a spokesman from the F-35 joint program executive office acknowledged that the joint strike fighter would not likely participate in the Paris Air Show this year, telling Defense News he was not aware that an invitation had ever been extended. On Thursday, he maintained that the JPO had no knowledge of the invite.
It's possible that a decision to eschew the show was made at a higher level than the JPO, although it was not immediately clear which governmental agency had made that call or when.
A spokesman from the Aerospace Industries Association had no comment on whether the organization was currently working with GIFAS to bring the F-35 to Paris.