Richard J. Reilly
France and the rest of the world marked the end of the first century of powered flight with the largest Paris Air Show ever. It featured more than 1,200 exhibitors and a record number of attendees. Demand for space spurred the construction of a new 5,000-sq-ft exhibit hall. While early air shows showcased famous pilots like Bleriot, Santos-Dumont, and Farman performing in their primitive machines for audiences eager simply to see men fly, the current focus is on the deals being brokered in hospitality chalets.
Also gone are the days when even light transport aircraft were expected to do eight-point rolls in their flight demonstrations. New safety regulations restrict demonstrations to higher altitudes and pushed the flight paths farther from the crowds. Meanwhile, large displays of live aircraft have been replaced by less expensive scale models. Exhibitors did stress several aerospace niches, including regional jets, unmanned missiles and reconnaissance vehicles, jet engines for airliners, and European industry consolidation.
Growing market for regional jets
The importance of the short-haul market was evident in the static displays where presentations were made by Bombardier of Canada, Embraer of Brazil, and Fairchild and Boeing of the U.S. Regional airlines account for nearly half of U.S. flights and have earned double-digit returns in recent years. Bombardier, once known for snowmobiles, has emerged as the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer by quietly acquiring the government owned Canadair, as well as de Havilland, Short Brothers, and Learjet. The company now controls 46% of the 20 to 90-seat regional jet market. Boeing, eager to participate in the regional-jet competition, is positioning its reengined 717 as the sole regional jet in production with a world wide support system in place. The company also hinted at bringing out a shortened 717 to compete in the 70-seat market.
Embraer announced that Crossair, the Swiss regional carrier, has ordered 30 of its 70-seat EJR-170 and 30 EJR-190-200 aircraft with options for 100 more. In addition, Crossair ordered 15 of the 49-passenger EJR-145s and took an option for 25 more. The entire Crossair fleet renewal is potentially worth $4.9 billion to Embraer. The size of the contract attests to the coming of age of the regional jet market.