Plane orders to take off at Paris air show
The deafening roar of the biggest airliners and most advanced combat jets will split the skies north of Paris on Monday when the world's flagship air show returns to the French capital.
Alternating year-by-year with Britain's Farnborough, the Le Bourget aviation show is the industry's showpiece event and this year is expected to mark a return to massive multi-billion-euro orders for new aircraft.
On an industrial level, the event will be dominated by the duelling giants of commercial aviation, US behemoth Boeing and European champion Airbus, but the scientific star of the show will be a unique solar-powered plane.
As big as an airliner with its 63 metre wingspan but as light, at 1,600 kilos, as a family car, the Solar Impulse will demonstrate the future of aviation with daily flights, weather permitting, around the site.
Its electric propellers are powered only by solar panels and the team hopes that they can fly the craft all the way around the world to demonstrate their revolutionary technology to industry leaders.
The sales teams, company executives, journalists and engineers will do business in the first four days of the show and will be joined Friday by tens of thousands of enthusiasts for a three-day festival of flight.
Guests will include France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who opens the show on Monday, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who will visit on Tuesday and Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak, opening his country's stand.
Industry executives will be eyeing the big firms' order books, looking for confirmation that after a cautious 2009 following the global financial crisis airlines are preparing to renew their fleets with the latest aircraft.
Airbus general manager Fabrice Bregier predicted a "good show" and the French-based firm, a subsidiary of European giant EADS, has announced plans to boost production of its A320 basic model from 36 to 42 per month.
The plane-maker will also bring out its long-delayed A400M military transport for its first Paris air show outing, and its A380 superjumbo -- still the world's biggest passenger jet -- will make regular fly-bys.
While the Solar Impulse will demonstrate that in the far future flight may be possible without conventional fuel, Airbus hopes its A320neo -- with new fuel-efficient motors -- will point the way to a 15 percent cheaper interim solution.
Gulf carrier Qatar Airways and Malaysia's AirAsia are expected to sign orders for delivery of the jet in 2015, following India's GoAir and the Philippines' Cebu Airlines who have just bought more than 100 of them for $10 billion.
Alongside the A320neo, the European manufacturer's main hopes for the future now lie with its A350 project, a long-haul airliner made out of modern composite materials designed to be light and efficient.
It is due to enter service in 2013 but already the programme seems likely to face delays of the kind that have dogged Boeing's recent Dreamliner project.
The American giant traditionally announces new orders through the course of the year rather than at the annual meeting but will hope to wow Paris buyers with its modernised 747-8, the latest version of the original Jumbo Jet.
The firm is also expected to announce how it plans to upgrade the 737 medium-haul jetliner -- the world's largest selling aircraft -- perhaps with new jet engines to match the A320neo's improved fuel efficiency.
Beyond the big two, Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer will also fly the flag, along with emerging or re-emerging firms from China and Russia, but defence sales are expected to be slim in a time of global budget cuts.
© 2011 AFP