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Rain matches gloom at Paris Air Show

Associated Press
Jun 15, 2009 at 01:59pm IST

Le Bourget: Grey, rain-laden skies in Paris matched the mood at the Paris Air Show as it opened on Monday amid tough times for aviation.

Already reeling from the global recession, the industry gathering in the city where Air France Flight 447 should have landed only two weeks ago has been shaken by the still unexplained crash.

Pilots of the doomed Airbus A330 en route from Brazil to Paris did not even have time to make a mayday call before their plane plunged into the sea, killing all 228 people aboard.

CLEAN ACT: A cleaner works on a Bombardier-made Global Express XRS jet liner, on the eve of the opening of the Paris Air Show.

"The aviation community is still under some shock with the severity of this accident," said Airbus CEO Tom Enders at a pre-show news conference.

Investigators have another two weeks to find the flight recorders before signals emitted by small beacons attached to the boxes start to fade. Without them, the cause of the accident may never be fully known.

The Paris Air Show is marking its 100th anniversary, although because it alternates every other year with the Farnborough International Airshow outside London, it is only on its 48th edition. It opens to industry and the media on Monday, and then to the public Friday to Sunday.

Despite the gloomy economic climate, organizers expect around 300,000 visitors this year, half of them professionals, about the same as the last show in 2007. More than 2,000 exhibitors from 48 countries are taking part.

The traditional dogfight over orders between rival planemakers Boeing Co and Airbus SA has been tempered as the world economic crisis forces airlines to cancel or delay plans to buy planes. Tight credit markets have made it more difficult for potential customers to secure financing.

The International Air Transport Association has warned that the world's airlines will collectively lose $9 billion this year.

So far this year, Boeing, which is cutting 10,000 jobs, has taken orders for 73 planes, but with cancellations of 66, the net order intake is only 7 jets.

Airbus, which hasn't announced extra job cuts but had already been cutting payroll in a restructuring program launched in 2007 — has booked fewer orders at 32, but with fewer cancellations has a better net balance of 11 jets.

Still both plane makers are cushioned by order backlogs of around 3,500 planes.

Analysts said they expect a trickle of orders, possibly from Persian Gulf airlines financed by deep-pocketed patrons, or bargain seekers such as no-frills airline Ryanair.

Qatar Airways' head, Akbar al-Baker said the company plans to make "further announcements" at the Paris Air Show, suggesting it could add to plans for more than 200 planes worth over $40 billion in the coming years.

To mark the centennial show, 30 historic aircraft from various aviation epochs will be on display, including a Bleriot XI, a plane shown at the first Paris Air Show in 1909.

But few new aircraft presented, visitors will have to be content with the first appearance outside Russia of Sukhoi's new Superjet 100.

Airbus and Boeing's newest aircraft, the A400M military transport plane and Boeing's 787 jetliner, won't be making an appearance as both planes are late, having been dogged by a series of problems.

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