- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

U.S. combat planes will not fly at the Paris Air Show. No high-ranking U.S. military personnel and fewer American companies will attend. But Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele flew in this week for the affair.

Hotel accommodations and airfare for Mr. Steele and his five-member entourage to attend the junket will cost taxpayers about $28,000. The group will be reimbursed for meals and expenses.

Mr. Steele arrived Sunday in Paris and will spend four days marketing Maryland to the aerospace industry, though a poor turnout is expected because of the sagging global economy, sputtering aviation industry, hostilities in Iraq and the fallout from French opposition to the war.

Despite the precarious world stage, Mr. Steele forged ahead on the trip. He brought along Chief of Staff David Byrd, Secretary of State Karl Aumann and Secretary of Business and Economic Development Aris Melissaratos.

He was also accompanied by a security detail of two plainclothes state troopers.

“Maryland supports the growth of the aerospace and defense industries and is home not only to the U.S. leaders in the industry, but the home of choice to significant operations of leading European aerospace/defense firms,” Mr. Steele said in a news release explaining the trip.

The state is sponsoring a booth at the exhibition that it will share with several Maryland-based companies. The booth has a plasma-screen TV running video footage of Maryland-made products and a displays of the state’s “strategic assets in defense and aerospace industry.”

The decision by others to pass on the world’s premier aviation exhibition wasn’t a factor when planning the trip, said Andrea Harrison, spokeswoman for thestate’s Business and Economic Development office. Diplomatic tensions between the United States and France were also not an issue, she said.

“Remember that this is not limited to France,” Miss Harrison said. “It is a European air show.”

The news release also said of the trip: “The Paris Air Show gives Maryland leaders the unique opportunity of meeting with top-level executives of the world’s largest aerospace and defense firms for the express purpose of attracting foreign investment projects, increasing exports from Maryland manufacturers and service providers, exploring transatlantic partnerships, generating projects for Maryland’s federal facilities and increasing brand recognition of the Maryland region and infrastructure.”

While at the show, at Le Bourget Airport, Mr. Steele and the Cabinet secretaries plan to meet with U.S. Ambassador Howard Leach and executives from such firms as Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin as well as Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.

Mr. Steele will find 20 percent fewer American companies displaying their hardware at the show. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. plan to cut the number of sales representatives at the show this year.

The U.S. military is sending six military aircraft, down from 13 last time. And none will perform the usual flying demonstrations. The Defense Department is not sending anybody above the rank of colonel.

The department wants to avoid the image of high-ranking officers “wining and dining” in Paris while lower-ranking troops are in Iraq, said Lt. Daniel D. Hetlage, a department spokesman.

Tom Ramstack contributed to this article.

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