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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Big Show, Small Role, Big Opportunities

Douglas Nelms

Whether the Paris Air Show is of huge value or a dead waste of time and money depends on whom you ask.

In 1908, The Frenchman Gustave Rives was holding his second Paris Motor Show in the Grand Palais, just off the Champs Elysees. As an added attraction, he decided to add some of the marvelous new machines called aeroplanes to the exhibition, barging several aircraft up the Seine and carting them over to the exhibit area--creating in the process what was to become the famed Paris Air Show.

The next year André ‡ranet and Robert Esnault-Pelterie held an aeronautical exhibit in the Grand Palais specifically for aircraft, with 380 exhibitors in attendance--and the world's first show totally devoted to aircraft was born, containing airplanes, balloons and information pretty much everything know about aeronautics up to that date.

Today, the Paris Air Show is the largest air show in the world in terms of exhibitors and aircraft on display and a major venue for unveiling new aircraft. The 2005 Paris Air Show is no exception. Airbus is expected to show its new giant, the 550-passenger A380, while Boeing will be showing the 777-200LR, newest member of the 777 family.

On the helicopter side, though, nothing "brand new, never before seen," is expected to be unveiled. While Bell, AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, HAL and Kazan have committed to having aircraft at the show, as of late April, Sikorsky and Boeing were not sure what, if anything, they were going to show. Although the U.S. Department of Defense has stated it will have an AH-64D and UH-60 in the American static aircraft corral. MD Helicopters stated that it will not be exhibiting this year. Peter Schweizer said that Schweizer will be featuring its two fixed-wing reconnaissance aircraft plus the rotary-wing Firescout Q8-B as part of Sikorsky's booth. Robinson Helicopters will not be at the show, but will be represented by its European dealers.

Bell will be pulling out all of the stops and displaying its wares in three separate pavilions in front of its chalet complex, to include mock-ups of a Bell 429 EMS ship and the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), the Eagle Eye unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey. Bell will also have a heliport from which they will provide demonstration flights in the 407 and 430. Bell/Agusta will jointly be showing the AB139 and BA609.

Not unexpectedly, Eurocopter will have virtually its full line of helicopters at the show, ranging from the small EC120 Colibri to the EC225, newest member of the Super Puma family. It will also be showing the Tigre HAP 01 and NH Industries NH90.

AgustaWestland will be showing its line, to include an EMS A109 Power and A109 Grand, A119 Koala, A129, EH101 and the Super Lynx, the latter two out of the former Westland, Yeovil, U.K. facility. Indian`s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) will be exhibiting its DHRUV advanced light helicopter as well as the Chetan, HAL's upgraded Alouette III with the Turbomeca TM333 2M2 engine. The Kazan Helicopter Plant of Russia will be showing its Mi 38.

Unmanned aircraft are also going to be well represented. The show organizers said that based on the success of the UAV sector at the 2003 Paris Air Show, the UAV sector "has been made an interal part of the 2005 show." UAVs will have their own exhibition area in the new Hall 4/5, as well as in individual manufacturers static display and exhibition areas. There will also be a "UAV Awareness Forum" held on Tuesday and Wednesday of the show.

Israeli Elbit Systems said that it will have on static display its line of Hermes drones plus the Skylark, a 4-kg. man-packed UAV recently selected by Israel's MOD and Ground Force Command.

Northrop Grumman will show its Fire Scout and Global Hawk, and, of course, Bell is showing its Eagle Eye UAV. Honeywell will be exhibiting its new 13-in. autonomous surveillance Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) that can be carried by an individual soldier and activated on the battlefield to gather and transmit battlefield information.

On the engine side, Rolls-Royce will be emphasizing the RTM322, primarily to influence current and potential customers for the NH90. John Bowden, director, marketing sales for defense, said that the NH90 is a European program, so there will be a significant amount of interest in that program at Paris." Australia has just selected the RTM322 for its 12 NH90s, and Rolls-Royce is hoping to get a New Zealand order. The decision on the power plant will be between the RTM322 and the T700. Rolls will also be giving briefings on the T800, which powers the Super Lynx. "That helicopter has been sold to four countries and we have high hopes for that engine and some other European activity," Bowden said.

New helicopter systems technologies will also be exhibited, such as Israel-based Elisra Group's new-generation DAS/ESM system developed to defend helicopters in today's combat zones. Elisra said that the single system provides both defense avionics systems and electronic support measures simultaneously for the cost of a single DAS system. It also allows the installation of the same hardware and common software on helicopters operating different combat missions, such as army battlefield light utility helicopters or naval sub-surface or surface combat helicopters. The modular systems approach is fully digital, including digital receivers and powerful signal processors, the company said.

ITT Industries, Avionics, which makes airborne electronic warfare products and systems for both fixed and rotary wing platforms, also will be exhibiting integrated helicopter defense systems at this year's show. The company said that it has now moved into customer-centric systems integration rather than just being known for its "black boxes," a move that is important as electronic warfare becomes an integral part of network-centric operations. As an example of this integrated approach toward providing complete aircraft survivability suites, it will be exhibiting the ALQ-211 Family of Systems (previously known as the Suite of Integrated RF Countermeasures, SIRFC), a modular and scalable system that is currently being tailored for its eighth platform.

For the practical use of helicopters, the show organizers said that they are partnering with Helifrance to provide helicopter service between Paris and Le Bourget, as well as helicopter sightseeing tours of Paris and for "the organization of events at prestigious venues which can accommodate helicopter landings."

The real question is what impact shows such as Paris or Farnborough have on the helicopter industry, as opposed to regional marketing shows such as Singapore and Dubai, or the specialty shows such as HAI's HeliExpo, Duxford's HeliTech, the new International HeliTrade or Dubai's HeliShow.

HAI President Roy Resavage said that while Paris will be very light on civil helicopter activities, it is still of significance on the military side. "I think it serves a complementary service in that it forms a forum for military hardware to be demonstrated and (the manufacturers) get to trot out their new products in front of an international audience. But from a commercial aspect, I don't think the big shows offer very much. During my seven-year tenure at HAI, the helicopter presence at the major air shows has diminished, each year becoming less and less. At Farnborough last year there was almost no commercial helicopter activities. I'm not saying there is none, but compared to what it used to be, it has dwindled down to a very small number."

Clive Richardson, chief executive of Fairs and Exhibition, organizer of the Dubai Air Show, said that a very high percentage of exhibitors at Paris and Farnborough attend the shows because "they feel that they need to be seen as part of the wider industry, and probably go as much to position themselves alongside the likes of Boeing and Airbus or the major defense guys, more than that they think they are going to perhaps influence a European customer or whatever."

For the second and third tier companies, it is more of a positioning thing in making sure that the larger airframe and major defense contractors know that they are there, he said. "A company that wants to be playing in the international arena normally feels that they should have some kind of presence there."

"We go there because we expect to see a lot of people from all around the world at one focal point," Bowden said. "The French organizers are particularly good at inviting official delegations and getting them around the show so we have an opportunity to explain what we're trying to do." For very large diverse companies such as a Rolls-Royce or EADS or Textron, "you have such a large market you are trying to serve. The helicopter side is important, but not the reason you go somewhere like Paris. Procurement agencies are coming from countries all over the world, so they have a chance to get up to date and meet people from a cross section of the world and from the top companies. There is nothing better than meeting customers from, say for instance, 10 countries in a single day that would otherwise have taken my team five or six weeks and a huge amount of dollars. That's a great benefit. The number of people you can see in four days at Paris is tremendous. So we tend to go to the major shows as a total company, then work the smaller shows as business units. We have different approaches to each event."

As for how the regional shows relate to the two major international shows, they are both competitive and complimentary--competitive in that there are only so many dollars in a marketing budget and decisions have to be made as to where those dollars are spent, and complimentary in that companies go to the major shows to see and be seen by current and potential customers, but go to regional shows to find new markets.

Richardson said that people don't really go to Paris or Farnborough to see what is going on in the world, "they can learn as much about what is going on in the industry by going to Dubai or Singapore as by going to the big European shows. Our experience in Dubai is that the second and third tier companies come to the (biennial Dubai) show not necessarily to check it out, but because they have already checked out the market interest and are coming because of genuine marketing interest, to seek business."

Bowden agreed that "Paris is large and tries to cater to everybody," and can thus be a little less focused than the regional shows, "but none the less, it is still great value." He added, however, that the regional shows such as Dubai and Singapore are becoming so big that people attending them come from all over the world "and a company like Rolls-Royce is so global that it can do business in Dubai or Singapore with companies from other regions."

There is a move afoot to give helicopters more depth at regional shows. Because of the growing Middle East helicopter market, the 2003 Dubai Air Show featured its first helicopter pavilion, a portion of one of the two exhibition halls dedicated to helicopter companies. As for special helicopter pavilions at Paris or Farnborough, Richardson said that such pavilions "could happen at the big international shows." He noted that Farnborough had launched an apparently successful corporate aircraft section last year. "That sector has a bigger mass than the helicopter sector, and they did a pretty good job and a lot of companies that went into it were quite happy. So I suppose there is no reason why a helicopter pavilion couldn't work at the bigger shows."

The flaw is that helicopter companies tend to be subsidiaries of, and therefore exhibiting with, larger companies. "We all face the challenge that the helicopter manufacturers may have other objectives and have other influences in how they represent themselves," Richardson said.

An example is AgustaWestland, who will be exhibiting under the Finmeccanica banner in Dubai this year, he said. That banner becomes the foremost company in the Italian group. So while Agusta Westland may see the benefits of a helicopter pavilion, there is a more over-riding assumption that they will be there in a more corporate role within the parent company group, just as Eurocopter would be with EADS. The only two major names that were in the Dubai helicopter pavilion were Sikorsky, because UTC (United Technologies Corp.) did not have a corporate presence at the show, and Bell Helicopter, which did not have their own presence at the show "but were relying on Hawker Pacific, their regional representative."

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