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Civilian Orders Dominate Paris Air Show, But Business Strong For U.S. Defense Companies

Posted by Colin Clark on

Paris: Aerospace reporters began grumbling about the paucity of U.S. defense news at this year’s Paris Air Show by the end of the second day.

While defense companies don’t go to air shows to make news, they are important venues for them to gain bragging rights and to set the tone of the debate about the competitions in which they are engaged.

But the great majority of coverage here by aerospace reporters and the general press focused on civilian companies and programs. A simple search of Paris Air Show stories turns up more than 1,700 stories and the great majority of them report on the civilian airplane orders won by Airbus and Boeing. The best summary of that back and forth comes from the Financial Times: “…rival Airbus walked off with a record number of orders and commitments for new passenger jets.”

Part of the reason for the relative paucity of U.S. defense stories can be traced back to the fact that this is the first air show in a very long time at which the epic battle over the airborne tanker contract did not feature prominently. That usually generated at least three or four stories each show. Another reason is that the U.S. is not featuring in the most prominent international defense competitions right now. The biggest competition — India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) — does not feature an American entry right now. But if you walked by the Eurofighter chalet you saw a big sign declaring that they had been selected for the MMRCA downselect.

The best an American company could do, by contrast, was Lockheed’s huge F-35 billboard that faced everyone as they walked out of the show. It basically declared that the F-35 is great for the partner countries.

Adding to the relative dearth of U.S. defense stories must have been the fact that there were very few media types in Paris for the companies. If an executive doesn’t have a press person to babysit him, there isn’t much chance that executive will meet with the press. Raytheon was the one exception to this, having a fully staffed press operation. They were also lucky enough to boast perhaps the biggest U.S. defense news of the show — their development of a directed energy weapon designed to destroy an enemy’s electronics without kinetics.

On the business side — which is what the companies care most about, after all — things were brighter. We understand from several executives that a number of the U.S. prime contractors each met with more than 1,200 customers. One source told us that his company had met with more U.S. military customers than they had been able to garner in the past year in the U.S.

But the Europeans appeared to be generating even more meetings, if the number of bodies in their chalets was any indication. Several visits to the chalet of European defense company EADS revealed only slightly less crowded conditions than those found on the RER train back to Paris from the show. (That was like riding the New York subway at the height of rush hour on a rainy day.)

What do you think?