- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

LE BOURGET, France | The Paris Air Show opens Monday under a morose, uneasy cloud.

Already reeling from the global recession, the aviation 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.

“The aviation community is still under some shock with the severity of this accident,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders.

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 crash “has traumatized people,” said Gerard Feldzer, a former A330 pilot for Air France who now heads the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget airport, near Paris, where the air show is held. He said it’s hard for air travellers to accept that “zero fault doesn’t exist.”

The Paris Air Show is marking its 100th anniversary. Because it alternates every other year with the Farnborough International Air Show outside London, it is only on its 48th edition. It opens to industry and the media Monday, and then to the public June 19 to 21.

Despite the gloomy economic climate, organizers expect about 300,000 visitors this year, half of them professionals - about the same as at the last show in 2007. On display will be more than 2,000 exhibitors from 48 countries.

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.

“It is a very difficult time today, there’s no question about that,” Randy Tinseth, head of marketing at Boeing’s commercial division, said Friday.

Louis Gallois, head of Airbus’ parent company EADS, said there could be even worse times ahead.

“2010 and ‘11, perhaps ‘11, will be more critical,” he said.

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 seven 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 planemakers are cushioned by order backlogs of about 3,500 planes.

In an ominous sign of how much the business-jet market is hurting, manufacturers Gulfstream and Cessna aren’t even showing up.

Embraer, the world’s fourth largest planemaker, which laid off 20 percent of the company’s work force in late February, will have a “minimal presence” at the show to curb costs, spokesman Stephane Guilbaud said.

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