25 June 2023

The 2023 Paris Air Show – putting the je ne sais quoi back into aviation!

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Air show

An aerial view of the 2019 Paris Air Show with the resident Musee de l’Air et de l’Espace du Bourget at left, the show’s static line at centre, the vast exhibition halls at back, and the parallel corporate chalet lines snaking away at right. Photo: Salon International de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace.

Paris is colloquially known as the ”City of Light” or the ”City of Love”. But for one week every two years, it’s the city of jet noise, blistered feet, and frantic dashing between meetings!

The 54th iteration of the Salon International de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace (SIAE) de Paris-Le Bourget – known more commonly as the Paris Air Show – was held between 19 and 25 June – at Le Bourget Airport in the French capital.

Making its return after the 2021 show was cancelled due to the pandemic, the biennial air show is generally regarded as the world’s longest continually running and is the largest air show in the world in terms of space, exhibitors, hospitality chalets, and displays.

The first Paris Air Show was held in 1908 as an extension of the Paris Motor Show and, in 1909, the first dedicated air show was held at the indoor Grand Palais in central Paris. Ever since then, it has been held every two years, breaking only between 1915 and 1919 for World War I, and between 1938 and 1946 for World War II. Since 1949, it has been held in odd-numbered years.

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On the even-numbered years, the UK hosts the Farnborough Air Show just west of London, while other large biennial air shows are held in Dubai, Lima in Peru, Zhuhai in China, Singapore, and Avalon in Australia.

When I was a specialist aerospace writer, I attended four Paris Air Shows from 2007 to 2013 and was grateful to have been able to take my father to the 2013 iteration and travel around France with him after the show.

Those who have visited Paris in June will know it is either stifling hot or raining. Le Bourget is about 12 km north-west of the centre of Paris, outside of the peripherique (ring road) not far from Paris’s main Aeroport Charles de Gaulle-Roissy.

Dedicated RER trains are put on for show-goers from the main city station of Gare du Nord, although the Le Bourget station is still a couple of kilometres from the airport itself, and it is not uncommon to see thousands of people in grey business suits – not your typical French business attire – aimlessly wandering the streets of suburban Le Bourget in the rain trying to find the air show entrance.

The trade and exhibition days are held from Monday to Friday, while the public can attend from Friday afternoon through the weekend. There is also a dedicated media day on the Sunday before the show, where some of the flying displays are being rehearsed and the finishing touches are being applied to various exhibition stands.

Exhibitors range from missile and radar manufacturers, maintenance and repair organisations (MRO), spares providers, engine designers, sustainable solutions developers and military aircraft manufacturers up to Boeing and Airbus, which show off the latest versions of the world’s largest airliners.

Dozens of flying displays daily are conducted by helicopters, light and historic aircraft, propeller and jet trainers, fighter aircraft, maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, civil and military transports, bombers, business jets, and airliners of all shapes and sizes.

For a journalist, it’s a frantic week. There are numerous briefings and presentations, many of which overlap or directly clash due to a lack of coordination between companies; there are the flying displays themselves, often of unique aircraft rarely displayed elsewhere; and there are many clashing evening events held at some of the fanciest and most picturesque restaurants and event locations in Paris. The alcohol flows freely, sleep is at a premium, and good footwear is a must!

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While it’s unlikely many major business deals are concluded in Paris, many manufacturers and airlines like to save up major announcements for the air show, and ceremonial contract signings are often conducted with visiting VIPs to maximise media coverage.

The big news out of Paris this year included:

  • An order for 500 Airbus A320N and A321N airliners worth up to $US50 billion from India’s Indigo, the largest single order of airliners ever.
  • Air India ordered 250 A320N and A350 airliners from Airbus, and 220 737s, 777-9Xs and 787s from Boeing.
  • Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac has dumped Russia from the joint China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation (CRAIC), and will instead go it alone in developing the widebody CR929 airliner.
  • Qantas ordered an additional nine Airbus A220 airliners to take its order book of the type to 29. The A220 will feature heavily on Qantas’s Canberra schedule.

In the week before the Paris 2023 show, organisers said they were holding space for 2453 international exhibitors, that 139,840 trade visitors had registered, 125,000 sqm of internal and external exhibition space had been reserved, and that 140 aircraft would be on the static or flying display.

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