PARIS — While the intelligence (and no little industry scuttlebutt) for this year’s Paris Air Show is that the event will be quieter than in previous years, there’s still plenty going on at Le Bourget.
What “quiet” really means is fewer of the massive aircraft orders we’ve seen in recent years — no hundred A320neo aircraft here, no two hundred 737 MAX there — not least because, with all the massive orders, delivery slots are far into the future. But that’s likely to mean that we see more current generation orders like Delta’s agreement to purchase 40 Boeing 737-900ER aircraft alongside 20 ex-Air Canada Embraer E190 regional jets as airframers seek to keep their current aircraft lines going even while they’re testing next-gen platforms like the 737 MAX and A320neo.
With these next-generation programs announced, and the shape of the next 15 years of the narrowbody and widebody market fairly clear now, it’s about incremental improvements to make both the aircraft and their cabin interiors more efficient. (Sorry, flyers: “efficient” means carving out an inch here and there that the airlines and interiors companies hope you won’t notice, like those new slimline seats, lavatories and galley areas.)
This year also features one of the best commercial flying display programs in recent memory, and what may be a great opportunity to delve deeper into the aviation industry.
On offerings in the air: an exciting pair of dueling new-generation twinjets, as Qatar Airways is bringing an Airbus A350-900 for flying display, while Vietnam Airlines will fly a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner resplendent in its new livery. If you think that’s “quiet”, tell that to the more than 300,000 people who have already watched Boeing’s 787-9 practice video:
Bombardier’s 135-seat CS300 will also perform in its first airshow, following its first flight this February. The Canadian airframer really needs some positive publicity for the CSeries, which is two years late and has picked up the “much-delayed” adjectival prefix. From a passenger experience perspective, the CSeries has some real benefits, but it’s understandable if airlines are reluctant to commit to being the next in line for a questionable delivery date when there are other options available.
One of those other options is Embraer’s E2, the updated version of its popular 70-100 seater aircraft. Embraer will be demonstrating its new cabin, created in conjunction with design house Priestmangoode. Questions remain, however, about the extent to which the demonstrator cabin can look like the eventual product, especially in terms of the innovative tablet mounts, which may need to be refined for head impact testing purposes.
Bombardier is also bringing its CS100 for static display, painted into the livery of launch customer Swiss International Air Lines. Swiss has to be pleased that it will be getting some extra publicity for its new narrowbody, which it needs fairly quickly in order to refresh the smaller end of its European narrowbody fleet, much of which consists of aging BAe 146/Avro RJ aircraft. The CS100 is currently planned to be introduced into service in the first quarter of 2016.
Airbus is also planning a flight display of the A400M military turboprop transport aircraft, despite a crash near its test site in Seville in March, reportedly resulting from a failure in the computer controls for three of the four engines.
There’ll also be an Airbus A380 on static display — will we see the much-derided 3-5-3 main deck seating configuration that débuted at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg this April.
Not currently expected: an A320neo, the next generation of Airbus narrowbodies, according to the WSJ, which suggests that the issue is with a component of the next-generation Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engine formerly known as the Geared Turbo Fan (GTF).
Airbus is also going futuristic, with its E-Fan 2.0 all-electric two-seater aircraft, a technology demonstrator that is still a large number of battery generations away from commercial flight use, but is likely to affect how this future tech develops. In the interim, the airframer may well have success with the two-seater and four-seater versions in general aviation settings.
Look also for a number of back-office announcements, particularly around MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) facilities. There’s big money (and particularly big cost savings) to be had for western airlines in moving significant chunks of their maintenance to lower-cost sites, although public perception issues mean that big-name brands like Lufthansa Technik are reassuring for some passengers. Expect new operations in the Asia-Pacific region in particular.
The Internet of Things (IoT) buzzword will be thrown around a lot at Paris this year, and the media distribution list is already buzzing with companies hawking their wares. The large conglomerates who make their money selling networking systems that underpin the IoT would like airports to increase the amount of passenger tracking they do, but the question is whether these companies have realistic suggestions for flyers who have understandable and reasonable questions about how much privacy they will need to give up for a coupon for a discount in Starbucks or Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
Another part of the IoT puzzle is aircraft e-enablement, which (as ever with something prefixed by a “e-“), sounds like it’s from the 1990s, but really means connecting increasing parts of the aircraft to each other and to networks so they can be monitored and adjusted remotely. Just as the IoT hasn’t had everyone running out to buy a Nest thermostat or fridge that emails you or automatically orders more milk, the aviation IoT is still in its infancy. We may well see a number of new products and integrated systems that promise a bit of growth.