Despite gloomy predictions that the global economic downturn and the crash of Air France flight AF447 would cast a pall over the Paris Air Show, makers such as Airbus unveiled better-than-expected orders while technological innovation in the industry showed no sign of letting up.

Airbus emerged as one of the main winners from the Paris Air Show, chalking up orders and commitments for 127 aircraft worth nearly $12.9bn. Meanwhile Boeing, which announced orders for just two aircraft orders in Paris, said it does not save up orders to announce at air shows.

Boeing, alongside Lockheed-Martin, did however seek to exploit problems surrounding Airbus’ new A400M military transport airlifter by offering their proven C-130J and C-17 models respectively as alternatives to the European air forces, which are in urgent need of a new transport plane.

“Airbus emerged as one of the main winners from the Paris Air Show, chalking up orders and commitments for 127 aircraft.”

Lockheed claimed to have been approached by a number of countries in Europe seeking military transport aircraft, while Boeing said it had held talks with members of the seven-nation consortium involved in the Airbus programme.

Boeing also raised spirits by announcing that its long-delayed 787 Dreamliner would be flying by the end of June, despite not making an appearance at the show. However, Boeing will still have to work hard to win back the confidence of customers such as Qatar Airways after Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker launched a scathing attack on the US planemaker. “The writing is on the wall for Boeing and they don’t care. They’re too busy having lunches and dinners,” he said, adding that Qatar Airways may become an exclusive Airbus customer and cancel its Boeing 787 and 777 orders.

French turboprop maker ATR also performed well, unveiling a number of new orders – including 20 for its new 600 derivative. The 600 is being launched as successor to the company’s ATR 42 and 72-500 series. Improvements include more powerful Pratt & Whitney (P&W) Canada PW127M engines and a new Thales flight deck. The first flight of the 600 is scheduled to take place this summer.

Unmanned innovations

Much of the focus at the show was on the rapidly expanding UAV sector, with Boeing estimating that the UAV market could be worth $160bn over the next ten years. Plextek, an electronics and communications design consultancy based in the UK, launched an advanced medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV engine that it claimed weighed up to 30% less than current engines in the class.

Traditionally UAVs have required a larger engine to cope with power loss at higher altitude. But Plextek’s engine uses a supercharger, more commonly found on manned aircraft, to maintain engine power at higher altitude. Plextek believes the engine will allow its UAV to cruise at higher altitudes without compromising performance.

Meanwhile Ebit Systems launched a new UAV at the show, the Hermes 90. It made its debut shortly after the creation of a joint venture between the Israeli company and General Dynamics to promote the sale of unmanned air systems to the US. The Hermes 90 can fly for over 18hrs at an altitude of 15,000ft, and can operate night or day and during adverse weather conditions. In addition, it can be launched via a ramp or can take off from short runways.

Aeroart of France also unveiled a very low cost UAV called Featherlite. The entire system, including control, visual systems and an on-board video camera, costs only €7,900. The Featherlite is just 1.2m long, weighs only 1.5kg and has an endurance of 12hrs. Aeroart believes the system will be used for training UAV pilots as well as for surveillance and photography.

Environmental engines

There were also significant developments in the engines sector. P&W, for example, announced test-programme results of its new PurePower Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine at the show. P&W says the GTF will become the new standard in commercial jet engines and will greatly reduce the impact of the airline industry on the environment, giving the company a greener image.

The engine aims to achieve double-digit reductions in fuel burn, environmental emissions, operating costs and engine noise. For the latter, tests showed a 50% reduction in engine noise compared with today’s quietest engines. The GTR is expected to enter service in 2013.

“Much of the focus at the show was on the expanding UAV sector, with Boeing estimating that the UAV market could be worth $160bn over the next ten years.”

The greening of the aerospace industry was one of the key features evident in Paris, with makers keen to stress advances in fuel efficiency and weight savings. An Airbus A380 parked on the runway at the show in Le Bourget even had the words ‘Greener, Cleaner’ painted across the fuselage. EADS Eurocopter exhibited its Bluecopter, a new helicopter that is being developed to keep carbon dioxide emissions to a minimum. The aircraft’s ‘high-compression’ diesel engine concept is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40%.

Meanwhile, aircraft makers are taking advantage of new composite materials to build ever-lighter aircraft. One of the most striking examples was a four-seater plane exhibited by French small aircraft maker Issoire Aviation. It is made entirely of composite materials and weighs just 500kg (1,340lb) when empty.

Boeing also announced it is considering developing a new family of all-composite aircraft to replace the 777, the largest twin-jet on the market today, while Airbus said in Paris that its long-range, high-capacity A350 XWB aircraft will contain a large proportion of composite material components. The first flight of the A350 is scheduled for the third quarter of 2011.

Lastly in the area of safety, Alcore, a small company from the US, launched Strikegrid, a product designed to protect aircraft from the effects of lightning. Strikegrid is a corrosion-resistant foil surfacing material that protects exposed surfaces such as engine nacelles and control surfaces. Alcore says a number of suppliers to the 787 are purchasing Strikegrid.