Paris Air Show goes green but sales war takes centre-stage

Paris Air Show goes green but sales war takes centre-stage
PHOTO: Bloomberg

PARIS - With air passenger numbers set to double to six billion annually by 2030, the world's premier air show in Paris will next week focus on green issues even as the aircraft sales war remains centre stage.

The Paris Air Show brings together some 315,000 visitors and 2,260 exhibitors from 47 countries, with much of the attention focused on which big manufacturers, particularly Airbus and Boeing, will land the most orders.

But the event happens to be hosted in the same Le Bourget venue outside Paris that will welcome world leaders later this year as they try to hash out a global deal to curb greenhouse emissions.

So it is little surprise that this year's air show, running June 15 to 21, will put a special focus on environmental issues and innovations.

Top industry officials, government ministers and environmental experts will meet on June 18 to discuss air travel's impact on the climate, and there will be a week-long exhibition on the subject called "The Sky of Tomorrow".

"Building planes that emit less and less CO2 remains a leading challenge for the aeronautic industry," said Marwan Lahoud, president of GIFAS and one of the event's organisers.

"The Paris Air Show will be the chance to see the results and innovations achieved by manufacturers direct from the source," he added.

Attendees will include Nobel peace prize co-laureate Philippe Ciais of France's Climate and Environmental Sciences Laboratory, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and a host of top air industry honchos.

The air industry's contribution to climate change is complex and controversial.

Although planes are thought to be responsible for only around two per cent of global greenhouse emissions, some researchers have found that the different types of gases released and their high altitude may have more powerful short-term effects.

The industry's global mouthpiece, the International Air Transport Association, has set a target of being carbon neutral by 2020 and halving CO2 emissions by 2050, primarily through increased use of cleaner fuels.

But an EU attempt to impose a tax on the most polluting airlines collapsed in 2012 in the face of opposition from Chinese, Indian and American companies.

Despite that, many firms are seeking to cash in on the trend for greener technologies.

Airbus will show off its prototype, all-electric plane, the E-Fan, at next week's air show.

And EGTS International will demonstrate its "Green Taxiing" system that allows planes to taxi on the ground without the main engines, using a back-up power unit to drive motors on the wheels.

Sales war

For the general public, all eyes will be on the sky with flying displays by around 40 aircraft each day, including fighter jets such as France's Rafale, Pakistan's new JF-17 Thunder and Ukraine's Antonov 178.

Airbus has also confirmed it will display its A400M military transport plane for the first time since a fatal crash in Spain last month caused by a massive engine failure.

But while many visitors are looking up, industry insiders will have their eyes firmly on the bottom line, watching the all-important competition for sales among the big manufacturers.

The industry needs between 300 and 400 sales next week to keep its production lines ticking over through 2020, said Ben Moores, a senior analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defence and Security.

Airbus chief Fabrice Bregier said 2015 may not break records, but was set to be a good year with "several hundred" orders lined up.

Boeing's Randy Tinseth said the Seattle-based company had "a lot of things in the pipeline on the mid and long-haul planes." Airbus narrowly pipped its US rival at the last show in 2013, registering $39.3 billion in confirmed sales to Boeing's $38 billion. That year's show saw a total of $115 billion in orders for the industry as a whole.

The commercial aviation sector remains buoyant, breaking records last year with 2,888 orders, according to Deloitte Global, a consultancy.

But the defence sector is struggling, it said, led by declines in the United States which has shed 168,000 jobs since 2010.

Paris is a particularly important venue for smaller companies that have fewer chances to show off their wares.

Canada's Bombardier is particularly hungry for sales after its new C Series aircraft struggled through development delays and difficult market conditions, said Moores, while Pakistan is desperate to secure its first-ever order for the JF-17.

The show opens to the public on June 19 for the final three days.

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