TIM ROBINSON previews one of the highlights of the aviation calendar - the biannual Paris Air Show, set to take place this year on 19-25 June.

What will be the big news this year at Le Bourget? (Paris Air Show)

This year celebrating its 52nd edition, as is traditional, the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget will see the first four days of the show devoted to trade days, with the remaining three days open to the public.

With the UK's Brexit dominating headlines, the organisers, SIAE, have been swift to talk up Le Bourget’s credentials as a global aerospace showcase, rather than as a national industry promotion event. The organisers are expecting some 2,300-2,400 exhibitors and revealed at a press briefing in May that the show had sold out in October 2016, some five months earlier than normal. Some 150,000 trade visitors are expected with around 300 official delegations. Meanwhile, the exhibition is expecting some 200,000 visitors through its gates for the public days. Some 150 aircraft are expected to be on display in the static and flying display.

Let’s take a look at some of the expected highlights and big themes this year. 

Commercial aerospace

The Airbus A350-1000 will be taking part in the flying display. (Airbus)

In civil aerospace, the home team of Airbus has announced it will be bringing two of its latest airliners, the single-aisle A321neo and the A350-1000, (now undergoing testing) to Le Bourget to show off in the flying display. Despite immense effort in ramping up production, Airbus has not quite eliminated supply chain issues from both the neo and A350 programmes – Pratt & Whitney engines and cabin interiors respectively continue to be pinch points affecting these deliveries. And, while Airbus is focused on production and deliveries, rather than new designs, the show may also see new details about potential upgrades to the A320neo (including a composite wing) to keep it one step ahead of rivals.  

Boeing delivered the first 737 MAX 8 to Malindo Air in May (Boeing)

Meanwhile, Boeing will be sending its 787-10 Dreamliner test aircraft, which made its first flight back in March, along with its 737 MAX 9 to Le Bourget. Like Farnborough in 2016, the MAX 9 will be keeping up the new Boeing tradition of its airliners taking part in the flying display. Indeed, this year is an auspicious one for the 737, which celebrated its 50th birthday in April and continues to evolve. With Boeing's MAX 8 just having entered service with Malaysia's Malindo Air last month, this year's Le Bourget could see the official launch of a bigger 737 MAX 10 – designed expressly to compete with Airbus' A321neo which is dominating the high-end single-aisle market segment.

The MAX 10, however, may just be a stopgap solution to a much more ambitious twin-aisle, twin-jet Middle Of Market (MOM) clean sheet airliner Boeing has being mulling. Originally seen as a niche 757 replacement, the '797' MOM has expanded its mission to fill a gap between the largest single-aisle 200 seat and smallest twin aisle 250 seat airliner and exploit the growing 'long and thin' services now being offered by airlines. Though a MOM product launch at Paris is unlikely, we may see more details and technical specifications unveiled.

Gatecrashing the duopoly? Russia's MC-21 represents a growing threat to Airbus' and Boeing's business. (UAC) 

Yet while Airbus and Boeing will continue to generate news this year at Le Bourget – two new airliners that have hit headlines earlier this year with first flights, will not. Those are the C919 from China's COMAC and the MC-21 from Russia's UAC – both single-aisle designs aiming to break into the Airbus/Boeing duopoly.

Of these, UAC's MC-21 is perhaps the most technologically advanced, with a wider fuselage section than rivals, a composite wing using out-of-autoclave manufacturing and active-sidesticks. Can this, however, translate into a wider global sales success – especially given frosty West-Russian relations?

COMAC's C919 meanwhile, though a milestone in Chinese aviation (and containing a lot of Western content) is not perhaps as technologically advanced as the MC-21, but it does have the behemoth of the Chinese state behind it. It is notable, for instance that a recent news report suggested that the Chinese Premier has pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to help with certification of the C919. This unusual high-level request may find receptive ears given the fall-out between the US and the EU, but it could make those in Airbus nervous that Germany would essentially be assisting an industrial competitor enter a highly competitive market.

Eastern star - Mitsubishi aims to generate market interest in its delayed MRJ (Mitsubishi)  

Other new airliner entrants hoping to muscle in on the action this year at Le Bourget are Bombardier (which will be bringing a CS300), Embraer, with its re-engined E195-E2, which only flew earlier this year in March and Mitsubishi – which will be displaying its MRJ at an international air show for the very first time. With Mitsubishi having encountered headwinds in the flight test and certification process, the first public debut of the MRJ will be a key milestone to recover some momentum on this programme and catch customers eyes.

Meanwhile, Bombardier's CSeries has now entered service with both the CS100 and CS300 variants (Swiss getting the first CS300 last month), the company is now caught up a wider legal battle with Boeing – which accuses it of 'dumping' the airliner at low prices. This spat threatens to spill over into defence contracts too, as Boeing is hoping that Canada will acquire the Super Hornet.

In regional turboprops, ATR will have its bestselling ATR 72 600 at the show. Though in recent years the company has enjoyed record sales (including a recent order from India’s IndiGo) it has been mulling a larger 100-seat turboprop for some time. Will Le Bourget be the place to announce firm plans?          

Finally, expect an update from supersonic start-up Boom Aerospace on its plans for a Mach 2.2 airliner. Can it kick start a new age of supersonic air travel? 

Airliner bubble burst?

A Qatar Airways A350 is on the list of aircraft attending - but may be taking a circuitous route, given the current situation. (Airbus)

Yet commercial aerospace this year takes place at a strange time. Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump has added unforeseen factors to an industry already at the top of its cycle – with the combined 'book-to-bill' orders vs deliveries ratio from Airbus and Boeing now falling to below 1.0 for the first time since 2009. Yet while airliner sales have slowed (especially in widebodies), deliveries are still accelerating and are expected to grow by 7% this year and 10% in 2018. Growth in air traffic is still outpacing GDP.

However, the regular big spenders of Gulf airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, are unlikely to open their wallets this June and are being buffeted by US travel restrictions and new security rules. As pixel goes to page, a huge diplomatic spilt has began between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE and Qatar – further adding to the volatility in the region and leading to cancellation of flights between Qatar and neighbouring Arab countries.   

The stand-off between the US and EU over introducing a laptop ban could also expand into other areas. What, for example, does the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement mean for ICAO's green emissions agreement? 

And there are worrying signs that US protectionism ('America First') and intransigence may result in tit-for-tat trade wars. France's recently elected President Emmanuel Macron, for example, included a 'Buy European' act in his manifesto – which could have unknown affects for both US (and UK suppliers) in the global aerospace supply chain. 

The addition, too, of an A380 prototype at the Musee d'Air will also be a visible reminder that the superjumbo's fortunes still remain up in the air.   

Military aviation 

The F-35A will be flying the flag for America - the first US stealth aircraft to appear at Paris since a B-2 briefly visited in 1995. (USAF)

After some confusion over invites, the USAF has finally RSVP'd with a 'delighted to attend' and will be sending the Lockheed Martin F-35A to Paris. A F-35A has already been spotted practicing what appears to be an airshow routine over the Lockheed plant at Fort Worth Texas. Although this is the first Le Bourget appearance for the stealth fighter, its international debut took place last year at airshows in The Netherlands and the UK. While France is not a F-35 customer, it has been reported that Germany is now considering it as part of a possible replacement for Tornado. As well as reassuring allies and European F-35 customers such as Italy, Norway and The Netherlands, the attendance of the F-35 also sends a message to potential adversaries that the jet is entering service in force. Interestingly enough, the F-35 is said to be set to appear in the static too – a bold move given that the last time a US stealth fighter was on the ground at Le Bourget in 1988, a close US ally was reported to have attempted to scrape a skin sample in a bit of cheeky industrial espionage. This year, expect the F-35 to be protected with armed guards if it does appear in the static. It will also fly with 'radar reflectors' to mask its true radar signature.    

Brazil's KC-390 will be showing off its capabilities in the flying display. (Embraer)

Also appearing in the flying display for the first time this year is Embraer's KC-390 tactical transport – which has been expanding its envelope with parachute and air-to-air refuelling trials. The Brazilian company says it expects to announce its first international customer for the KC-390 this year. Interestingly, Embraer also see a civil freight transport future for the KC-390 – which would pit it against Lockheed Martin's LM-100J – also to make its international air show debut at Paris after making its first flight on 25 May.

Will the Anglo-French FCAS project remain on track? (Dassault)

With Brexit overshadowing it, the Paris Show will provide an opportunity for an update on the joint Anglo-French UCAV or Future Combat Air System (FCAS) currently being studied. As a bilateral agreement it is obviously independent of EU defence research, but much depends on perhaps on how acrimonious the UK/EU divorce is. While industry on both sides of the Channel is keen to proceed and both nations have similar thoughts on a future stealthy unmanned wingman – could politics derail this critical combat aircraft project? Alternatively, it may be that with the US moving away from European allies – this provides an opportunity for France and the UK to boost the project with additional partners (for example Germany) and allow London to demonstrate that although it is leaving the EU, it still remains committed to Europe’s defence.       

The show will also have a Japanese flavour with a Kawasaki P1 MPA attending the exhibition. This, along with the MRJ underscores Japan's desire to boost its aerospace industry and seek new international partners and markets.

Another fast-growing nation in aerospace, is Turkey, which will have on display the TAI Anka UAV, T129 ATAK attack helicopter and making its Paris Air Show debut, the Hurkus basic trainer. This will also be taking part in the flying display.    

Low-cost airpower. L3 Technologies and Air Tractor will be displaying the AT802 Longsword (Air Tractor)

If high-end stealth fighters represent one end of the defence market, low-cost close air support represents the other, for countries with limited budgets fighting COIN conflicts. Both L3 Technologies (with its Air Tractor AT802 Longsword) and LASA (with a Thrush 501G) will have armed and heavily modified cropdusters on display at Le Bourget. Textron AirLand meanwhile will be showing off its low-cost ISR and light attack Scorpion jet.   

There will be also be a powerful display of US air power in the US DoD corral including a P-8 Poseidon (now having won export orders from Australia, UK, India, Norway and a commitment from Saudi Arabia), AH-64 Apache, CV-22 Osprey and F-16.

European partners have delivered 500 Eurofighter Typhoons - but what comes next? (Eurofighter)

Around the chalets however, there will be much talk about what the shifting geopolitical situation means as Europe and the US experiences its biggest political split in living memory. The recent NATO summit saw European leaders publicly humiliated by President Trump about defence spending, while he walked away without uttering any reassuring words about the alliance's cornerstone Article V. Washington's complaint about allies not pulling their weight is not new of course, but never has the message been delivered this bluntly. Meanwhile those on the edges of NATO, such as the Baltic states, will be eyeing Russia nervously and wondering whether US high-level disengagement means that Moscow has effectively been given carte blanche.

It is unlikely that this will translate immediately to defence deals or new programmes that are announced at Le Bourget – but do expect an extra commitment for European NATO countries to work more closely together – especially in pooling resources and sharing capabilities. Ironically, Britain's exit from the EU, combined with the Trump Presidency now means that a long-predicted 'European Army' is now much more likely. This, and the ongoing insurgencies across the Middle East, along with tensions in Asia-Pacific as China expands its influence, means that analysts expect a 3-5% global rise in defence spending.  


Can Ariane 6 keep Europe's place in space access? (ESA)

Le Bourget is also an air and space exhibition, and a showcase for ESA and European companies to highlight programmes such as ExoMars, Ariane 6, the OneWeb constellation and Europe's partnership with NASA's Orion. Embarrassingly, perhaps for European industry, a recent NASA decision on a delayed uncrewed Orion mission highlighted that AirbusDS’s modified ATV (which makes up Orion’s Service Module) running behind schedule was one of the reasons behind this.

There is more pressure on European space industry from across the Atlantic. While Ariane remains an ultra-reliable launcher, the success of SpaceX's reusable rockets and new entrants like Blue Origin are putting pressure on established rocket companies to drastically cut costs.  Can Ariane 6 – scheduled for a first launch in 2020 - keep European spaceflight competitive against these new entrants? 

Meanwhile, OneWeb – which seeks to apply Airbus’ airliner mass production methods to build a huge 648-satellite constellation to provide cheap broadband anywhere on Earth also faces competition from Elon Musk. Proponents argue that even if both were to succeed – there is no such thing as ‘too much bandwidth’ – however the rise of mega small satellite constellations invariably means that ideas about how to reduce space debris will also become a higher priority, lest LEO get gridlocked.  

Finally, as well as the usual big presence from ESA and NASA, look out for smaller nations and companies aiming to enter the space race at Le Bourget. The UK is one – with a plan to develop its own spaceport. New Zealand – whose Rocket Lab attempted a launch last month is another. How might these small companies, offering low-cost rapid space access disrupt the market?      

Business and General Aviation 

Business jets like Dassault 8X have faced a tough time recently. (Dassault Aviation) 

Meanwhile in business and general aviation, highlights to watch out for include Dassault’s new flagship Falcon 8X, which was delivered to the first customer in October 2016, as well as two bizjets from Gulfstream, the G550 and G650. On the lower end of the scale, there will also be a chance to see Cirrus’s new Vision SF50 very light jet, which has just started being delivered to European customers.

While Leonardo will be bringing an AW169 helicopter to Le Bourget, missing from this will be its AW609 tiltrotor – which has re-entered flight testing after a fatal crash in 2015 and is aiming for certification in 2018. With a tough offshore market, can Leonardo bring the world’s first civil tiltrotor to market?  

A new configuration of Airbus Helicopters high-speed LifeRCraft rotorcraft will be on display at Paris. (Airbus Helicopters)

Airbus Helicopters meanwhile will have its new generation H160 on display for the first time, which is now going through flight test. It will also unveil a new configuration of its high-speed compound Clean Sky 2 LifeRCraft at Le Bourget.

Finally, with new European single engine turboprop rules for commercial use, business aviation manufacturers with suitable products will be looking for a lift in sales. Pilatus will be there with its ubiquitous PC-12, while Daher will have on display its TBM 930, and Cessna its utility Caravan EX. 


How does the industry open up the skies to drones, but safely? (Sky Futures)

Another year at the Paris Air Show will see developments in UAVs and drones broadly split into two camps – those interested in new ways to knock them out of the sky, and those interested in integrating them into manned aviation or airspace. Notably some companies will be offering solutions for both. The weaponisation of consumer UAS systems by ISIS insurgents in Iraq has highlighted this technology can be hijacked by non-state actors or terrorists to provide precision air attack. Some may argue that 40mm grenades, dropped by a quadcopter with limited battery endurance, do not compare to a Reaper with Hellfires but the genie is now well out of the box. Counter-UAS systems, for government buildings and facilities, key infrastructure, public events will be a growing market sector. The rise of China as a major armed UAV exporter is another trend to watch for.

Meanwhile, a significant number of people are looking at UAVs from the opposite point of view – of how to integrate them safely in controlled airspace and unlock a commercial market potentially worth billions. Who will take the lead here, whether it is the US FAA or Europe’s EASA, will potentially define the rules that influence not only how UAVs safely share the airspace with current manned airliners and helicopters, but also the new generation of autonomous passenger vehicles that are now being imagined.  

Innovation on display

Silicon Valley tech start-ups will be welcome at the Paris Air Lab. (Paris Air Show) 

With a theme of innovation and start-ups, another highlight to look out for this year at Le Bourget will be the Paris Air Lab, set to take place all week in the Concorde Hall at the Musee d’Air. This will see Silicon Valley-style start-up pitches, TED-style talks and use immersive virtual and augmented reality technology to showcase what an airshow might look like in 20 years time.  

With a slew of companies promising that 'flying car' technology is just around the corner, expect some companies to showcase their thoughts and ideas about the future of urban aerial mobility. While it won't be flying, AeroMobil's 'flying car' will be on display in the Paris Air Lab, while Airbus Group promise a mock-up of its science-fiction CityAirbus aerial taxi will be at the show. Significant challenges remain (ATM, safety) but this represents a truly disruptive technology. With the city of Dubai aiming to trial Ehang VTOL personal aerial taxis this summer – the future may be closer than you think.  

Park it right here. (AeroMobil)

Electric aircraft (or hybrid-electric) aerospace will also be another key technology trend to watch for at this year's Le Bourget. Described as the 'Third Revolution' in aviation (after heavier than air and jet engines) the introduction of hybrid-electric aircraft could be a massive breakthrough for sustainable aviation - allowing the steady growth of air travel without significantly harming the planet through fossil fuels. Yet there remain challenges – energy density of batteries is a key one, along with weight. The future electric aircraft too will be much more integrated – with any systems integrator or OEM having a much tighter control on the supply chain than ever before. This, and the fact that potentially the hybrid-electric aircraft OEM may not even be the airframer raises interesting questions about how the industry will look in the future.  

Yet among this burst of optimism for Silicon Valley start-ups promising to ‘Uberise’ everything in aerospace from the passenger experience to general aviation – there are grounds for caution. Aviation and aerospace is tightly regulated for good reason, in that many of its regulations come from lessons written in blood from previous accidents. Can a rapid, development cycle of, for example, a smartphone, ever be reconciled with the safety first, regulation heavy approach of aviation?       

For young people curious about entering the world of aerospace, the ‘Careers Plane’ will return, showcasing more than 20 professions. In 2015 it saw some 70,000 visitors visit the exhibition to find out more about the variety of careers. 

Big data, connectivity and virtual reality

Rolls-Royce is now using virtual reality to design its next generation of jet engines. (Rolls-Royce) 

Other themes to watch for is in the use of big data and connectivity in enhancing and optimising aircraft manufacturing, passenger service and operations. While big opportunities exist in these areas, recent headlines of major hacking (NHS) or IT shutdowns (British Airways) means that vendors will be stressing the robustness and security of their networked systems. The interconnected nature of global supply chains today means that for hackers (or states) looking for weak spots to say ground a foreign air force, the ideal entry point may not be the enemy air force HQ, or even a front-line squadron, but inserting bogus 3D printing files into a tier 3 supplier.  Is the civil and military aerospace sector yet geared up to combat this threat?

Visitors to the exhibition will also encounter unstoppable rise of augmented and virtual reality – both as a marketing tool in itself, for example to show off new cabin designs, or put you in the cockpit of aircraft during an air display – but also increasingly to help design and manufacture aircraft, train skilled workers and perhaps one day pilots. Tomorrow – immersion will be key in learning and collaborating.       

Practical improvements

Get ready for the biggest and best Le Bourget ever. (Paris Air Show)

Sadly, the threat of terrorism means that all public events now have to think about extra security measures and the Paris Air Show is no exception. There will be 500 police officers and soldiers, 500 private security guards and 135 CCTV cameras helping protect the show. While organisers are planning that the increased security will not mean long queues, there will be extra pre-filtering (search and frisking) as well as the usual X-Ray machines.

Other improvements for the 2017 Salon include beefed up 4G networks, and an enhanced geo-location mobile ‘app’ that allows exhibitors to order food to be delivered to their stand, and a ‘Around Me’ function that highlights interesting stands and events nearby. 

Watch the skies!

Pictures make prizes.... (Paris Air Show)

Those with cameras or smartphones at this year’s Paris will have extra reason to get snapping this year with the launch of a major international aviation photography contest. But which aircraft will be in your viewfinder? Watch this space! #InPlaneSight    

Stay ahead of all the news!

To follow all the news at Paris don’t forget to bookmark www.aerosociety.com and follow the daily airshow news on the Insight blog. For those on Twitter, follow @AeroSociety and use the hashtag #PAS17. Editor-in-Chief Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR

See you at the show in June!

Tim Robinson
6 June 2017