Hello from the Dugny suburb of Paris, where I’ve just landed a few hours ago for the Paris Air Show 2019, which kicks off today. As the oldest running airshow in the world, Paris is always an interesting trade show to watch because of the large number of announcements that come out here. But this year is especially interesting, given the aviation business has moved from being the stable environment it was for the past many years, to a new paradigm over the past few months.
Here are some of the main topics of discussion I expect to get the most amount of mindshare at the Paris Air Show 2019.
Boeing’s 737 MAX
For Boeing, this will be an awkward time. The airframe maker is going through a tough time with the crisis around the
Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft. The aircraft is currently grounded around the globe after two of them crashed in a span of five months. Boeing wants the regulatory approval to be given at the earliest, as they claim they have worked through the solution to the MCAS issue. However, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators are no longer giving any guarantees on the timeline to return. In the meanwhile, over 300 of these aircraft are lying in storage across the globe.
To increase the problems for Boeing, other Boeing aircraft have also recently gotten quality issues which were previously unknown. For instance, the new airworthiness advisory issued for the 787 aircraft, which will impact a few of these aeroplanes, including those of Air India. Earlier this year, there were discussions about Boeing 787 aircraft built in South Carolina having production issues, “that threaten to compromise safety”.
No wonder then, everyone will be asking the same question of Boeing, and the airframe maker is in no position here to lead the narrative. It has also seen some of its key salespeople retire earlier this year, such as Dinesh Keskar and Rick Anderson, who covered the Asian market between both of themselves.
Boeing has also seen slipping timelines with the Boeing 777X, with the first flight being put off from June 2019 to about 6 months later at the moment, which is being caused due to the delay in the testing of the GE9x engine. At their heels is also the fresh news, that the Boeing 777X order of Emirates may be up for a cut or a delay from the side of the airline. The airframe maker is coming to the airshow with just one airframe, an Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787-9, and is likely to focus more on the defence business at the airshow.
The signal Boeing is also sending then, is that it is not perhaps ready to commit to the long-discussed NMA project right now, while Airbus is going to perhaps move forward with the XLR in the coming days.
Airbus at 50
For Airbus, the Paris Airshow 2019 will be special. The airframe maker is celebrating their 50
th anniversary, and they’ve come a long way to come neck to neck with Boeing, over the past 50 years of their existence. When they started, Airbus had only one aircraft to sell, and now, they span many. Airbus is bringing its entire suite of products to Le Bourget. The A330neo of Air Asia, the A350-1000 testbed and in Qatar Airways colours, an A321neo all-business class aircraft, and an Air Baltic A220-300 aircraft. While they will also have an A380 from highly join in the flying display, the aircraft is no longer sold by Airbus anymore. The Airbus A321XLR may finally launch
It is also suspected, that Airbus is saving up quite some orders for the Airshow, given the May 2019 bookings of aircraft only reflected one new aircraft order booked. On Friday, Airbus also teased that they might launch the Airbus A321XLR variant in the coming days, in a possible jab at Boeing which is perhaps still making up its mind on the Boeing NMA project. IF launched, the A321XLR should be able to do many trips such as Delhi to London on a non-stop basis, which opens up new markets for single-aisle aircraft.
This would help Airbus take away some Boeing clients who are waiting for a new aircraft for their fleet of aged B757s. For Boeing, it will risk getting into the same situation again which landed it up in the MAX situation. Back in the day, in 2011, Airbus won over key Boeing client American Airlines with the reengined A320 version called A320neo, forcing the hand of Boeing to junk their plans for a cleansheet design and go with a reengined aircraft, to be called the 737 MAX.
Mitsubishi embraces global goals
Mitsubishi, which has been trying to make its own identity in the regional aircraft space is coming to the airshow with two key moves. On the eve of the airshow, Mitsubishi renamed the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, yet to be delivered to clients, to the Space Jet, and created a smaller variant of the aircraft targeted at the US Market. Not just that, Mitsubishi is moving in to acquire Bombardier’s CRJ programme as well.
Embraer arrives as Boeing Brazil - Commercial
Embraer, very well known for their E195-E2 Aircraft, is going to get eyes turning again, with a new stunning livery on their testbed aircraft which will be on display at Le Bourget.
A simple walk around the Airshow venue will tell you that the focus of aviation has moved big time into the next big things. Two problems are seeing various solutions, one is the move to make a successful entry into the Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicles (VTOL), where everyone is pushing as the solution to urban mobility issues. Airbus has the Vahana prototype on display, and then there are many more. The second solution is of the problem that is sustainability, as the focus moves on making commercial aviation more focussed on alternative fuels and electricity, rather than conventional fossil fuels.
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge ( www.livefromalounge.com .)