Friday, August 23

Big boys toys

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IT was amusing to watch as grown men virtually regressed into little boys at the sight of over 140 aircraft in the static display of the 49th Paris Air Show from June 20 to 26.

BUSINESS JET: The Dassault Falcon 7X does a flyby.

Not that the women who attended the world’s oldest and largest air show at Le Bourget – 11km north of Paris – were not impressed, but seeing up close aircraft ranging from the General Dynamics F-16C fighter jet to the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Dassault Rafale and the Sukhoi Superjet 100 was for many men like a boyhood dream come true.

When some of these planes took part in the daily flying displays, jaws dropped and there was much oohing and aahing as well as many a sore neck even among the most jaded of aviation and aeronautics experts.

It’s not every day that you get to witness a Eurocopter EC175 hover in the sky vertically, or a Hawker Beechraft T-6C perform barrel rolls and inverted flight manoeuvres, along with flybys by a Dassault Falcon 7X and Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner.

The astonishing flight displays were high points of the show to enable exhibitors to demonstrate their technological expertise and for visitors to discover the latest offerings in the field.

Although there were incessant showers and just patchy blue skies, things looked bright and promising for the aerospace industry.

Commissaire general Louis Le Portz, in his welcoming message, called the international event “a show to mark the economic recovery”.

He said it was economic recovery that clearly influenced companies to register early, with the top 100 companies in the industry worldwide represented.

“The economic crisis has left its mark however, and most large companies have reduced their budgets by between 10 and 30 per cent, leaving space for newcomers or components manufacturers wishing to reinforce their presence,” he added.

Still, the biennial show – covering 192,000 square metres of aircraft display areas and 130,000 square metres of halls, village, chalet and outdoor areas – boasted a record of over 2,000 exhibitors from almost 50 countries, some 200 delegations from 88 countries, and over 330,000 trade and general visitors.

Covering the event were some 3,000 accredited journalists, including 17 from Malaysia – thanks to Malaysia Airlines (MAS) –- who were generally impressed with the truly global extravaganza.

“Amidst the bleak, grey skies, pouring rain and (public transport) strikes, the Paris Air Show was a great exhibition of the latest in air travel and warfare. The booths by the Israeli defence forces especially deserve mention,” said The Edge senior writer Jose Barrock.

RTM Business Desk editor Azrul Amila Amir felt that the show was brilliantly organised, enabling “industry players to gather and providing insight to potential customers and the public”.

He said the show was a “benchmark of the soundness of the global aviation industry at the moment,” adding that Malaysia’s Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima) should learn from Le Bourget.

AIRCRAFT ACROBATICS: The Eurocopter E175 hovers vertically during a flight display.

For Malaysia Asia editor David Hogan Jr, the event was driven more by military technology than consumer aviation.

“But if you love aviation, this is the show to attend. It was definitely an eye-opener in terms of aviation technology,” said Hogan, who took hundreds of photos during his visit, including those printed here (unless indicated).

The average passenger is likely to give little thought to what actually goes into an aeroplane.

Walking around the exhibition booths,visitors would come to realise that it is not just about companies like Airbus designing and building aircraft such as the A380.

There are many other aspects which complete an aircraft such as the cabin and seat layouts; pilot, navaids (navigational aids) and on-board equipment systems; as well as composite materials and surface treatments.

These are often handled by various other companies, many of which were promoting the latest developments in their areas at the show.

The Paris Air Show can actually be traced back to 1908 when it was held as part of the second Paris Automobile Show at the Grand-Palais near the Champs-Elysees.

The following year, Andre Granet and Robert Esnault-Pelterie organised the first exhibition devoted solely to aircraft at the same location.

From then, the show was held annually until 1924, except for during World War I from 1913 to 1919.

Since 1924, it has been held biennially, apart from another interruption during the Second World War.

For over 50 years, Le Bourget has been the home of the Paris Air Show.

The location has great history in terms of aviation, as American aviator Charles Lindbergh famously landed at Le Bourget for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris in 1927.

Even during its infancy in 1909, the show already had an international dimension. Over the years, competition between key players has contributed to a large number of technical and technological advances.

The Paris Air Show has had its finger on the pulse of the international aerospace market and witnessed historical moments, including:

1973 – European Airbus unveiled.

1983 – US shuttle Enterprise flying in atop Boeing 747 transporter.

1989 – USSR displaying  Antonov 225 – the world’s largest aircraft – with Russian space shuttle Buran mounted on top.

1991 – American A117 stealth bomber on display for the first time, alongside Gulf War aircraft and weapons like A10 tank killer and Patriot missile.

1993 – Airbus prototype beating world distance record by flying from Le Bourget to Auckland, New Zealand.

2005 – Airbus A380 unveiled.

2009 – World debut of Sukhoi Superjet 100 as the Paris Air Show turned 100.

A special guest at this year’s show was the Swiss Solar Impulse team with its revolutionary solar aeroplane.

This technological wonder made history in July 2010 as the first aircraft to successfully fly both night and day without any fuel – powered for 26 hours exclusively by solar energy.

On May 13, the solar aeroplane, registered as HB-SIA, flew from Payerne in Switzerland to Brussels Zaventem International Airport on its first European flight.

Having stored solar energy during the flight, the Solar Impulse plane arrived at its destination with its batteries as full as when it took off 13 hours earlier!

Interestingly, at 63.4 metres, it has the wingspan of an Airbus A340, like a car, it weighs 1,600kg, and has 10CV of power over 24 hours like a scooter.

Sadly, the rainy and gusty conditions meant that it could only take to flight on the final day of the show but, according to reports, it did not fail to impress the Paris crowd.

In keeping with the air transport industry’s efforts to achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2030, this year’s event also showcased alternative aviation fuels.

Innovations in biofuels and technological progress in air transport should help the industry achieve its goal of halving total emissions by 2050.

Aviation International News (AIN) analysts estimate that a whopping US$87 billion worth of contracts were signed at Le Bourget this year.

Malaysia also made the news when AirAsia placed a firm order for 200 Airbus A320 Neos under a deal worth US$18 billion at current list prices – the largest order this time round.

There was also a 30-year deal between Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and Eurocopter Malaysia Sdn Bhd (ECM), for the latter to be the anchor tenant of a new Helicopter Centre in Subang. ECM is wholly-owned by Eurocopter, which comes under EADS, along with Airbus, Astrium and Cassidian.

Meanwhile, MAS signed a deal with Pratt & Whitney’s to reduce its carbon footprint, and also exercised its option for 10 additional Boeing 737-800s valued at over US$800 million at current list prices.

Taking into account these and many other deals signed during the Paris Air Show, Le Portz’s labelling it an event “to mark the economic recovery” was definitely right on the mark.

thesundaypost attended the Paris Air Show, courtesy of MAS.

Since November 2006, MAS has flown the Kuala Lumpur-Paris route daily. It currently serves the route with the Boeing 777-200ER.

To see more of David Hogan Jr’s photos go to http://malaysia-asia.my.