European Aviation Firms Spotlighted At Paris Air Show

The world's premier commercial and military aviation and space trade fair is underway. The Paris Air Show is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The competition between European and U.S. plane makers Airbus and Boeing is a staple of the show.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Paris Air Show is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. Even after 50 years, it remains the leading showcase for the global aerospace industry.

But as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, with U.S. Defense cuts, this year it's the Europeans who are taking the spotlight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Welcome to the Paris Air Show...

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A thick crowd pushes through the gates on opening day of the Paris Air Show. The biannual trade fair, which runs through the weekend, features more than 2,000 exhibitors from 45 countries this year - up 10 percent from 2011.

But for the first time in more than two decades, American fighter jets aren't taking to the skies above Paris due to U.S. government spending cuts.

GREENE: Bill Sweetman, senior international defense editor of Aviation Week, says the U.S. military's absence has changed the nature of the show.

BILL SWEETMAN: What that's brought into relief is some of the very advanced defense technologies that are coming out of the rest of world.

BEARDSLEY: Sweetman says American cargo planes used to dominate in Paris, but this year the big air-lifters are from Russia and Europe. The Europeans are also leading in the once U.S.-dominated helicopter market. Sweetman says the aircraft stealing the show this year is the Russian Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jet.

SWEETMAN: Where the U.S. has pushed toward stealth in its combat aircraft, the Russians are still big believers in speed and maneuverability. This aircraft puts on a pretty spectacular show, doing maneuvers which basically, if you saw anything else doing them, very bad things would be about to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF JET)

BEARDSLEY: Mouths hang agape as the SU-35 flips tail overhead, falls like a twirling leaf, or seems to hang suspended in midair.

As usual, European and American plane makers Airbus and Boeing take center stage, and both companies draw crowds. They're focusing on smaller, more versatile twin engine long-haul jets, which analysts say are the future of the $4.8 trillion new plane market over the next two decades.

In that niche is Airbus' A350, which has just completed its maiden flight and is expected to make an appearance here this week. Boeing's latest addition to its fleet is the 323 seat 787-10, designed to serve routes within Asia, the world's fastest emerging travel market.

Whether you appreciate the technology or not, the Paris Air Show is always a glamorous affair. Industry players hobnob while the world's most spectacular planes line the tarmac and whiz through the skies above.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The Paris Air Show is also about history and nostalgia. This announcer pays tribute to Charles Lindbergh's first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927. We'll never forget how the crowds swarmed to welcome him right here at Le Bourget Air Field, he says.

For more modern times, French-European satellite launcher Arianespace is part of an international consortium including companies like Google, that plans to launch communication satellites over the near forgotten equatorial zone.

Clay Mowry is head of Arianepace's U.S. subsidiary.

CLAY MOWRY: This project is really going to bring the Internet to underserved parts of the world - where it's not cost effective to build fiberoptic networks that can really bring broadband communications to people in rural regions, so in the jungles, in the rainforests, in the deserts.

The company was originally called O3b, it stands for other three billion. So there's three billion people on the planet that are out of reach of broadband communications.

BEARDSLEY: Some of the shows innovations this year spice up the more mundane aspects of travel. There's a system for electric, green taxiing that saves jet fuel. And there's luggage that be routed via a smartphone app. Airlines might still lose your bags, but at least you can keep tabs on where they're going.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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