LE BOURGET, France, June 12, 2003. US companies will rent about the same amount of booth space at the Paris Air Show as they did two years ago during the height of the aerospace boom, but there will be fewer US exhibitors this year, according to show organizers. Show officials said US companies would take 3% less space than they did in 2001, the last time this biannual event was held. But the number of US exhibitors plunged 48%, from 350 firms in 2001 to 183 this year. Many of the US companies that pulled out this year were very small companies who took only small booths in 2001.
Organizers attributed the decrease in US exhibitors to the global economic slowdown in aerospace that has forced major airline companies like United Airlines to file for bankruptcy this year. The US has cut back on exhibiting at the show, said Yves Bonner, General Manager of the event, "but so have a lot of other countries. The US is still the second largest exhibitor here, after France." Bonner noted that only three major multinationals, Cessna, Textron and Gulfstream, did not return this year, and all three are "currently facing economic troubles."
However, political pressure from Washington definitely has had an impact on this year's show. For the first time in years, US military aircraft will not participate in heart-stopping aerobatics at the show. And many small-to-medium-sized US companies, whose presence at the show in year's past was subsidized by State and Federal governments, lost their funding this year -- although there will still be a handful of US States with booths here to attract overseas investment, including Alabama, Arizona, New York, Oklahoma and Virginia.
Even so, organizers remain optimistic that that Paris Air Show will hold onto its undisputed title as the world's largest air show. This year the event in Le Bourget, outside of Paris, will play host to exhibitors from 38 countries. In addition to 482 chalets where vendors will wine and dine customers, the total commercial area for show will include 51,600 square meters of indoor stands and 29,314 square meters of outdoor space. The total area for the show is down about 5% from 2001.
This year's event includes a major 4-day conference track on unmanned aircraft vehicles. Companies giving technical talks on technology and critical sub-systems for drones include Athena, Pyramid Vision Technologies, Sierra Nevada Corp., and SpaceAge Control Inc., from the US; Exavision, Spot Image and Xcell from France; Astrium, L-3 Communications and Thales Optronics from the UK; and Autoflug and Orbital Engine Division of Germany.
China is also expected to make a splash at the show. For first time, Chinese aircraft makers and subcontractors will be exhibiting at the show in force. China, which has declared it plans to become a major power in aeronautics and space technology by 2020, is currently building its own airplanes for regional commercial aviation to be powered by Chinese-built jet engines. A model of one new Chinese engine, the ARJ21, will be on display at the show for the first time. China also has plans to mass-produce a new home-built fighter, the J-10A, similar in performance to the American F16.
Al Furst, Contributing Editor
Military & Aerospace Electronics