WASHINGTON — Despite a sluggish defense market, organizers of the biannual Paris Air Show, set to kick off June 17, have already sold all of the show’s exhibition space and are anticipating bustling crowds.
The show’s more than 2,000 spaces sold out in January, and organizers said all of the major players in defense will be taking booths, except for U.S.-based Northrop Grumman. Northrop also skipped last year’s Farnborough International Airshow, citing cost concerns.
“This new air show in 2013 will be a very, very big air show,” said Emeric d’Arcimoles, chairman and chief executive officer of the show, at a press briefing March 27. “I link this success with two things. The first is the success of aviation around the world, the boom in this industry. … The second point is that, due to the decreasing of the military budgets of the different countries involved in the exportation of their own production, that is to say that now they say they have to compete more aggressively.”
As examples of the increase in global interest, d’Arcimoles pointed to the return of Russian fighter jets to the show, as well as the long list of countries participating, including 27 national pavilions.
Strong attendance, however, doesn’t mean the composition of the show space hasn’t changed. Increasingly, companies further down the supply chain are taking booths, while big companies trim their presence. And commercial companies, which account for about two-thirds of exhibitors, continue to grow compared with the defense contingent.
Gilles Fournier, managing director of the show, said that to make sure companies are receiving value for their investment in the show, the organizers have been focused on moving away from a pure PR event. “We want to take this show from a PR show to a business show, which we’ve done over the last 10 years.”
The list of aircraft scheduled to wow crowds with demonstrations hasn’t been set, but organizers said they hoped the Lockheed Martin
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would fly, as well as the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, among others.
However, those three aircraft face serious complications that might impact their ability to appear.
The 787 is still sorting out battery issues that have grounded the fleet. As is true in the U.S., there are complications with flying the Global Hawk, a UAV, in civilian airspace in France. And the F-35 is still engaged in test flights.
“‘There are currently no plans for the F-35 to fly at Paris or any other international air show this year,” Lockheed spokeswoman Laura Siebert said.
Looking to address a concern that has been increasingly voiced by senior executives, the central emphasis of the show will be recruiting youngsters between ages 12 and 20.
To that end, the show will have a large exhibit called the “Careers Plane” near its main entrance with what looks like a sliced and diced commercial aircraft sporting dioramas about how the aircraft works, as well as presenters on hand to discuss the industry.
The 2013 edition will be the 50th Paris Air Show, which first held an event in 1909, having missed several years during the world wars, but changes will be visible this year.
The show will open earlier in the day in an effort to help visitors and exhibitors avoid the traffic in Paris. Gates will open for exhibitors at 6:30 a.m., compared with 9:30 in the past. Organizers have invested $60 million over the past 10 years to improve facilities. And exploiting advances in smartphone technology, the show will feature an app that includes indoors geo-location. The application uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections to locate a user on a map of the exhibition halls.
The U.S. presence will be strong, with the U.S. pavilion increasing in size by 14 percent compared with 2011. The U.S. military’s presence will likely not see much change, with the Air Force still committed to having a large presence. The U.S. Army, which had a small space in the U.S. pavilion during the last show, will not be attending.
U.S. companies are looking more international due to economic pressures and are taking advantage of a grant program launched by the Obama administration in conjunction with the National Export Initiative, said Tom Kallman, whose company, Kallman Worldwide, is organizing the U.S pavilion. Kallman said industry is going through a classic Darwinian trial.
“There are a lot of discussions in the paper about what’s happening here in the United States with sequestration, and the challenges,” he said. “But among those challenges, be they domestic or global, those are challenges, and the survivors are stepping up and coming to the Paris Air Show.”