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Monday, August 1, 2011

‘Sunny’ Days in Paris

The champagne corks have been popped, billion-dollar deals signed and aircraft orders have been finalized. Another Paris Air Show in the books. And after all of that, the aviation industry is celebrating a return to robust business and healthier order books.

This was my first trip to Le Bourget for the air show. Words and pictures cannot do justice to the size and scope of this event. The billions of dollars in business, not to mention the blisters on my feet from the miles and miles of walking, speak to the Paris Air Show’s enormity. (Just as I was getting the hang of the 90-minute commute from my hotel to Le Bourget and getting a sense of the layout of the exhibition halls and chalets, the show was over.) Beyond physical size, the volume of business closed and the decidedly upbeat mood within the various halls, pavilions and chalets speak to the significance of this event to the international aviation community. And following several rather low years, it was nice to see bustling aisles again, persistent rain and a Paris train strike notwithstanding.

At the end of the week, Airbus had beaten rival Boeing handily in this year’s battle of the order books; Airbus recorded orders totaling $72 billion, while Boeing managed $22 billion in orders. This year’s record-setting $94 billion from the two major airframers was a far cry from the 2010 Farnborough Air Show, which managed just $47 billion in new aircraft orders. In addition, organizers of this year’s Paris Air Show touted the higher numbers of trade attendees and exhibitors from two years ago.

So, after some pretty dark days for the aviation industry, the sun is starting to shine again. (Although apparently not in Paris in June; it rained every day I was there.) With numbers like those it’s hard to not get excited. After some not-so-stellar years, it’s nice to be talking about a growing and dynamic industry again. Operators are buying, and equipping aircraft with new avionics systems again, and that’s good news for all of us.

Operators are buying, and equipping aircraft with new avionics systems again, and that’s good news for all of us.

Beyond that, companies are making investments in green technologies. Boeing flew its new 747-8 Freighter to Paris using renewable aviation jet fuel, the world’s first trans-Atlantic flight of a commercial jetliner using biologically derived fuel. Also, Honeywell and French aerospace company Safran are developing an electric green taxiing system for new and existing aircraft. They expect it to be installed on new aircraft and retrofitted on to existing planes, beginning in 2016.

Also, on the biofuels front, a Honeywell-operated Gulfstream G450 flew from New Jersey to Paris using a 50/50 blend of Honeywell Green Jet Fuel, derived by camelina, and petroleum-based jet fuel. It still seems a little sci-fi to me that you can drive a car on biofuels, let alone fly an airliner. The Solar Impulse solar-powered aircraft was on display at the event as well. “Solar Impulse is a reminder that we must think of more energy efficient aircraft solutions right away,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a speech at the exhibition’s opening ceremony. “Shaping the future of aviation also means creating sustainable aircraft.”

The show was very impressive and it’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the good news and excitement. Among the aircraft making a static or flight demonstration appearance this year were a Boeing 787, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, which made its first international flight to come to the event, and an Airbus A380. The 787 and A380, in particular, have had their share of bad press in recent years, but a lot of that seemed to disappear as the aircraft made their appearance at the event. (Although, on the eve of the show, an A380 display aircraft clipped an airport building during taxiing. The collision hit the starboard wing and caused a damage aircraft to be substituted by Korean Air’s newest A380. Sorry I missed that excitement!)

Here again, the investment in new innovations illustrates to me that perhaps, maybe, possibly the worse of the recession for the aviation industry may be in the past. Time will tell, of course, but that’s the hope.

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