Boeing, Airbus Square Off at Paris Air Show

The Paris Air Show is bringing together the biggest players and the latest technologies in the aviation industry. America's Boeing and Europe's Airbus are dominating the show once again. With Boeing parading the success of its 787, Airbus has been trying to recover from the manufacturing problems that delayed sales of its giant A380.

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The same airfield where Charles Lindbergh landed after his first trans-Atlantic solo flight in 1927 is now the scene of the Paris Air Show. It's being held this week in Le Bourget Airfield outside the French capital.

It's bringing together the biggest players and the latest technologies in the aviation industry. As Eleanor Beardsley reports, this air show is once again pitting America's Boeing against Europe's Airbus.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The Paris Air Show can be a bit overwhelming. This is the world's largest air and space trade show, a gargantuan display of aeronautical and military prowess and might.

(Soundbite of airplane passing)

BEARDSLEY: Fighter jets slice through the skies above while six mammoth exhibition halls below burst with cutting edge technology. It's like a plane and arms bazaar where manufactures hold secret negotiations to haggle over multibillion airline deals and weapons makers peddle their wares to bands of roving men dressed in military uniforms.

Unidentified Man: Last but not least, introducing the one and only Viper. Our fearless friend in unfriendly territories who boldly goes where nobody else wants to.

BEARDSLEY: Against this backdrop, rival plane makers Boeing and Airbus are waging their own battle - a PR campaign that seeks to convince the world which one makes the best airplane. This year, European manufacturer Airbus fired the first shot, announcing $45 billion worth of contracts on the opening day.

(Soundbite of airplane passing)

BEARDSLEY: That included orders for its super jumbo A380, which is the show's biggest crowd pleaser in its daily flyovers. But the plane has also been an albatross around Airbus's neck. Production delays on the A380 have wiped away billions of dollars of profits and forced the company to undergo a massive restructuring. To recoup its losses, Airbus must now cut 10,000 jobs and close six plants across Europe. Still, Airbus sales chief John Leahy says Airbus is back.

Mr. JOHN LEAHY (Airbus): Now, despite some of the troubles Airbus has had, and there have been many over the last year or two, we've also had very strong commercial performance. What does that mean? It means that customers are standing by Airbus. They may not like what they read in the press about some of the issues, but that doesn't stop them from buying the products.

BEARDSLEY: With Airbus on a downturn, rival U.S. plane maker Boeing has come into this year's air show with the upper hand. Boeing seems to be playing it cool. It plans no demonstration flights or aircraft displays and held a low-key news conference to talk about its new 787 Dreamliner. The long-haul plane has been a huge success and has already racked up 634 orders, even though it won't be launched until July. With those kinds of numbers, Dreamliner program head Mike Bair didn't bother to mention the competition.

Mr. MIKE BAIR (Boeing): We are currently sold well into 2013, and those are going pretty fast, so you know, it's going to be - the mid-half of the next decade before you can get a position. So they're selling out.

BEARDSLEY: Pierre Spataco(ph), industry analyst, says it's sometimes difficult to get a feeling for the real picture amidst the hype of the Paris Air Show. But it is interesting to observe the different public relations strategies of the two companies.

Mr. PIERRE SPATACO (Industry Analyst): Boeing is now announcing orders as soon as they are signed. Airbus is trying to keep big orders secret up to the opening of the show, trying to steal the show. So you get the impression suddenly that Airbus is selling many more aircraft than Boeing, and that's totally untrue, of course.

BEARDSLEY: The posturing between Airbus and Boeing has become an expected ritual of the Paris Air Show, but Spataco says it's of no real significance to the air traveler. What is important, he says, is that the competition between the two plane makers will keep them both turning out innovative and high performing airplanes well into the future.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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