The world’s aerospace industries descend on Le Bourget for the 50th Paris Air Show at a turbulent time.
While defense spending is rising in Asia, the Middle East, Poland and Russia, the rest of Europe and America are cutting their defense budgets and militaries around the world are grappling with the operational lessons of Afghanistan, Mali, Libya and more as they plan their future forces.
So it’s not surprising that many firms are dialing back their presence in Paris, citing its high cost and the need to redirect increasingly limited resources to markets with higher growth than Europe.
Northrop Grumman has sacrificed its chalet entirely. EADS, Europe’s biggest aerospace player and one of the key patrons of the airshow, is leaving its Eurofighter Typhoon on the ground, saving its euros for more lucrative overseas venues. And many defense chief executives are staying home, as business delegations shrink.
Also absent will be US military jets and helicopters. Automatic defense cuts in Washington have canceled DoD participation in airshows and flyovers at home. Industry must cover the full costs of bringing and flying planes to Paris this year, and the details proved too onerous to overcome.
Instead, the US aircraft display will consist only of a few unmanned and trainer aircraft rather than the expansive array of fighters, transports, tankers and helicopters of years past.
Yet as America cuts back, France and Russia will be present in full force.
Dassault’s flagship Rafale fighter will be a staple of daily aerial demonstrations, and Russia’s Su-35 will make its Paris aerial debut.
For Russia, it will be a triumphant return 14 years after its humiliating and abrupt departure in 2001 when, to keep from seeing its aircraft impounded by a debt collector, pilots scrambled their planes and pulled out abruptly from the show.
The Russian Su-35, which will make its Paris debut, is expected to be the star of this year’s flying displays.
The absence of American military jets and helos disappointed both US and European contractors, who look forward to a robust US presence as tangible manifestations of the quality of their work, especially supplier companies which, unlike Tier One giants, actually book sizable orders during the show.
The truth is, air shows are continually changing, driven by boom and bust civil and defense cycles. Commercial aviation is riding high now, but when eventually it trails off, defense work will again be in the spotlight.
This show was born and prospered at a time when it constituted the best way to get everyone in the industry in one place to meet. Yet today, with travel easier and time-compressing communications even more so, the Paris Air Show retains its value as a key destination, even in an era of less lavish budgets.
One way to make it still more valuable would be to formalize the opportunity to bring so many leaders and experts together and to focus them on critical issues of mutual concern, such as how best to maintain capabilities or protect European and American firms against intellectual property theft, which are globally competitive thanks to the quality of their technology.
Although many see Beijing’s concerted cyber espionage drive as aimed at the Pentagon and its contractors, the reality is China is vacuuming whatever it can from defense and commercial contractors worldwide on a staggering scale. That ought to give powerful impetus for those targeted to band together to protect themselves and adopt trade, diplomatic and other policies to dissuade such Chinese activities in the future.
Such cross-cutting issues may give companies an even more important reason to attend air shows than merely selling their wares.