The Paris Airshow, held biennially during odd years, celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2013. The show featured a number of first time visitors along with significant others, as aerospace industries competed to create as many new business opportunities as possible. For the aviation photographer and enthusiast, this promised a range of unusual types on display. Ben Montgomery headed to Le Bourget to see.

The Russians Return

Some of the most anticipated participants and exhibitors at the 2013 Paris Airshow were from Russia and the Ukraine.  Russia’s Rosoboronexport brought examples of the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker, Kamov Ka-52 Alligator and Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten, whilst Ukraine’s Antonov Design Bureau attended with their prototype Antonov An-70 and an Antonov An-158 regional jetliner.

The Kamov Ka-52 Alligator was making its first sales trip outside of Russia. Under the ownership of Russian Helicopters – a combined group of Mil, Kamov and Kazan – the Alligator is searching for an export customer, having already been purchased under a 141 aircraft deal with the Russian Military. The Ka-52 took part in the flying display each day at the show, complete with representative weapons load. The display did seem quite restrained, with most of the allotted 9 minute demonstration time taken up by curving passes – with one or two tight turns thrown in.

The Antonov An-70 is by no means a new design (it was displayed at Paris for the first time in 1999), but having been recently overhauled and upgraded, is back on the hunt for orders (after an initial signing from the Ukrainian Air Force for three examples). Powered by a unique Progress D-27 Propfan arrangement (visually recognisable by the large contra-rotating fans), the An-70 has a cargo capacity of 47 tonnes, 10 more than that of the A400M. The An-70 also has the ability to split its internal cargo hold into two decks via a removable flooring system. Billed to fly each day during the show, it flew on the first day of the event, and then not again until Saturday 22nd (despite being advertised on the program for each day as late as the night before).

Sukhoi’s Su-35 Flanker E was on display for the first 4 days of the flying programme, with the manufacturer reportedly not having insurance for displays during the final three days of the airshow (although the airframe was still present on static display). Another type actively searching for an export customer, Sukhoi envisage a market for about 200 aircraft (100 of which are anticipated to be for the Russian Air Force). The Su-35 had previously displayed at the 1994 Berlin Airshow, but whilst being offered to Brazil, China and India, has yet to win its first export order. With plenty of Su-27 operators worldwide, Sukhoi is optimistic for a first customer soon.

Airframer Rivalry

Nowhere is the commercial rivalry between the two big names of the Airliner world – Seattle’s Boeing and Toulouse’s Airbus – as visible to the public as at trade airshows such as this. With Paris being effectively Airbus’ home show, it was no surprise that there was a strong presence from the airframer, with several company owned aircraft on display – alongside a wider array of pre-delivery examples.

From a military perspective, Airbus provided a daily flying display from one of its five strong test fleet of A400M Atlas aircraft (both F-WWMZ and F-WWMS flew during the week long programme). The A400M is on the brink of reaching a major milestone, with the first delivery of an operational airframe to the Armee de l’Air (French Air Force) due in the weeks following the show. The first example for the French Air Force (with temporary test registration F-WWMQ) was on static display on the Friday of the airshow, to coincide with the visit of French President Françoise Hollande.

With the A400M due to exhibit in the flying display, a nice showpiece was envisaged and executed to highlight the requirement for the new airlifter, and the improvements it offers. Displaying first was the world’s first example of the Nord 2501 Noratlas, followed by a French Air Force Transall C-160, its chronological successor. After these two displays, the size and power of the A400M was far more apparent, emphasising the advantages it will bring in airlift capability.

Airbus also sent their 100th C-295 (previously of Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA, or CASA) to the show – marked for delivery to the Royal Air Force of Oman as part of an order of 5 C-295 and 3 C-295MPA aircraft to replace their ageing fleet of Shorts Skyvans.

There was the expected strong representation of the Airbus commercial fleet, with a daily flying display from an A380 (performed using a pre-delivery British Airways example for the first three days of the show), as well as visits from a brand new Hawaiian Airlines A330-243, Tyrolean Jet Service A319ACJ and Air New Zealand A320-232 (equipped with Sharklets).

Boeing was significantly down on aircraft strength this year – with a 747-8 display impossible due to aircraft availability, and any military appearances from types such as the C-17A curtailed by US Sequestration. As the airshow is primarily civil-oriented, this was not perceived to be too much of an issue for Boeing. Having recently returned to flight after issues with the Lithium-Ion batteries used on the aircraft, Boeing provided two 787-8s for the show, in the colours of Qatar and Air India – the latter being used as the flying display example. The 787 family was also expanded during the week, with Boeing formally announcing the go-ahead for the 787-10X stretch after an order of 10 aircraft from US lessor GECAS.

Both Boeing and Airbus announced huge orders from Ryanair and EasyJet respectively, with Ryanair committing to 175 new 737-800s, and easyJet selecting 135 new A320s (100 of which are to be the A320NEO, whilst the remaining 35 will be A320-200s with the new Sharklet technology).

Finally, whilst speculation was always rife as to whether Airbus would be able to put in an appearance from their new A350XWB (the rival of the 787), a third test flight of the type did fit into the schedule, allowing Chief Test Pilot Peter Chandler and his team to bring F-WXWB along Runway 26 at 600ft for a single flypast, before departing to continue with the test flight. The A350 took additional orders for Airbus at the show, with US carrier United selecting to convert 25 previous A350-900 orders to the larger A350-1000 model – as well as ordering 10 new examples of the type. French-Dutch conglomerate Air France-KLM also firmed-up an order for 25 of the new extra wide body jets, which will be distributed for operation between the two airlines.

Airbus had always stated that they would not try to build the test flight regime of the A350 around Paris, and would not commit to any form of display unless feasible within the schedule – but with the visit of President Hollande to Le Bourget on June 21st, and the return of the Boeing 787-8 to the skies, perhaps there was a little more to the decision to include a flyby (the publicity of which cannot be understated) than just luck and good timing.

Presenting their Wares

As well as Airbus and Boeing, many other manufacturers had their aircraft (as well as components and services) on display at Le Bourget. Finmeccanica’s subsidiaries AgustaWestland and Alenia Aermacchi had a range of rotary types on static display – including the AW159 Wildcat and a mock-up of the AW149. Alenia’s newest version of the C-27J Spartan, the MC-27J was present in a sinister black scheme (the type will eventually be modified into a gunship role).
France’s Dassault Aviation displayed examples of their Rafale B and Rafale M multirole fighters (in addition to other examples of the type on display by the French Air Force), and also used Le Bourget to allow the industry and the public to get their first look at the new Dassault Neuron UCAV demonstrator (protected inside a large transparent dome).

Sikorsky presented their long-serving work horse, the H-60 Blackhawk in the flying display, in the guise of a PZL Mielec S-70i Blackhawk. PZL Mielec, owned by Sikorsky produce the S-70 version of the Blackhawk locally in Poland.

Members of Eurocopter’s rotorcraft family provided additional displays, with a pair of EC665 Tigers (from the French and German Armies) conducting a very vigorous pairs display that seemed to overshadow the Ka-52, which had taken to the air shortly before. Also on display from Eurocopter’s stable was the EC725 Caracal, which provided an effectively aggressive Special Forces insertion and recovery demonstration.

The Visitor Experience – UK Daytrip

AeroResource was only able to visit the airshow for a single day. As there are three public days at the end of the trade week, we chose the Friday – on the assumption that whilst it was a public day, it’d likely be quieter than the weekend.

EasyJet operate an 0600 flight from London Luton to Paris Charles de Gaulle, from where a free shuttle bus operates during the week – another reason for attending on the Friday. The shuttle bus gets you to the show shortly after the opening time of 0830 (pending traffic, queues at the airport, and other variables). The return flight was the 2150 to Luton, allowing plenty of time at the end of the day.

Food and drink at the airshow was superb – for someone used to the overpriced low quality food and “cold” drinks served up at most UK shows, ice cold cans and water with good quality food was a pleasant change. The food was still expensive, but slightly cheaper than many UK shows (and the increase in quality was obvious).

Viewing areas for the flying display are limited, with the majority of the crowd line taken up with trade chalets obstructing the view. An area at the rightmost end of the line is provided for the general public, with a moderately sized grandstand which should provide views clear over the runway (although it had a very low elevation and was set far back from the crowd front).

Leaving the show was somewhat arduous – with the website stating that there would be shuttle buses every few minutes back to Charles de Gaulle airport, and then being told in the morning that these would in fact run until 8PM, it was perplexing to return to the appropriate gate at Le Bourget at 18:45 only to be told that there were no more shuttle buses (despite having been assured to the contrary not five minutes prior). Attempting to find someone to provide alternate directions was then fruitless, as all the public liaison types seem to have vanished at 7PM prompt.

The only alternative was to join the very long (but in fairness remarkably fast moving) queue to take a shuttle bus to Le Bourget RER metro station, and join the not so swiftly moving queue for a ticket on the metro to Charles de Gaulle. What should have been a brief 20 minute bus ride was in the end almost 2 hours. The complaint is not that we had to take the metro option, but that the airshow staff all seemed to vanish well before the last visitors, making it very hard to find out what was actually going on!

Photography at Paris

The 2013 airshow was this writer’s first trip to Paris, and whilst it’s easy to read internet reviews on the difficulties of photography at Paris, experiencing it is another thing. With the main purpose of the airshow being trade, virtually all static displays had VIP or chalet areas around them, and were almost always surrounded by members of the industry. If you want a clean photo, it takes either patience or the willingness to wait until virtually the end of the day when visitor numbers have dwindled. Due to the proximity of the barriers to aircraft, a super wide angle lens is essential (a Canon 24-105mm or similar would not be appropriate – a 17 or 10mm would be more effective).

Guidance about the position of the sun during the display is harder to give – as on the day of our visit there was solid cloud cover (typically until 30 minutes after the end of the display). The sun starts behind the display line, and moves around over the left hand end to finish the day in front of you. As the public viewing area is at the extreme right of the display line, this would mean that the majority of the display would be spent shooting into the sunlight. The cloud was actually a help then – preventing extreme silhouette shots.

For anyone looking to visit the show with the idea that it’ll be a similar experience to other airshows in the UK – it’s not. Whereas the majority of airshows are laid on to allow people to view and photograph the aircraft, this show is organised to allow the industry to buy, sell and advertise aircraft – the viewing and general public access is just a nice extra. Think Farnborough, but harder to view.

For these reasons, it’s not possible for us to offer a “conclusion” on the show, as that comes down to the order books of the various companies involved – we can however comment on the public’s experience of the event. With poor organisation (especially regarding transport arrangements), and unfortunate weather, it certainly made for a challenging visit. That said; there was a strong attendance from the public and a wide range of interesting aircraft on display. Would we visit again? Probably not on a day trip, but certainly for the full week to take in the complete experience.