Grounded at Home, Air Force Continues Participation at Air Shows Abroad
crowd during the 2012 Airpower Over the Midwest air show
While the Air Force has canceled several domestic air shows, the Pentagon’s budget troubles have yet to ground the service’s participation in international expos, where business takes precedence over entertainment.
Because of budgetary woes brought on by the continuing resolution and sequestration, the Air Force announced in February that it would ground its Thunderbirds exhibition squadron and cancel domestic air shows at least through the end of the current fiscal year.
Officials with the Paris Air Show told reporters March 27 that it will be “business as usual” regarding U.S. military participation at the June 17-23 event at Le Bourget Airport. European air shows such as Paris and Farnborough have seen attendance drop in recent years as the industry's attention shifts to Asian and Middle Eastern markets.
U.S. companies, too, are focusing on shows located in the Middle and Far East — Dubai, Malaysia, Australia — while forgoing a longstanding presence at Old World expos.
With 2,113 exhibitors from 45 countries, Paris is larger than any other exposition dedicated to the aerospace industry. Only 30 percent of its participants are military or defense related. The U.S. Army will not participate for the first time this year. The Navy scuttled its presence at the last show in 2011.
“The Air Force is canceling national air shows, which are much more [for the] general public and for demonstration, which costs a lot,” said Gilles Fournier, managing director of the Paris Air Show, said during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “I didn’t see in the declaration of the Air Force that they wish to cancel an international air show.”
Fournier said the Air Force’s participation would be comparable to the 2011 Paris Air Show, where it exhibited fighter jets and both C-130 and C-17 transport planes. This year, the Air Force is also expected to showcase an unmanned aerial vehicle, though which design will be exhibited is unknown.
“If it’s a Global Hawk, it is obvious the conversation we will have,” Fournier quipped, referring to the service’s decision to cancel its Global Hawk program in favor of the U2 spy plane it was designed to replace. “I have no signs that they could cancel any participation. It’s business as usual.”
Tom Kallman, president and CEO of Kallman Worldwide, which organizes U.S. participation at international air shows, confirmed that the Air Force was booked as an exhibitor. Service officials committed after March 1— the date sequester kicked in — to send aircraft and uniformed personnel, he said. “That confirmation came to us after sequestration, about two weeks ago,” Kallman said.
Fournier and Paris Air Show CEO Emeric d’Arcimoles are optimistic the Air Force will show up in June. Air Force officials on March 27 were in Malaysia at the Langkwi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition. In February, service officials also participated in the Australian International Air and Aviation Trade Show at Avalon Airport in Victoria, Australia.
But those air shows are located in the Asia-Pacific region, where the U.S. has focused its future strategy and where industry sees opportunities in emerging markets like China and India.
While most of the prime aerospace and defense contractors are expected at Le Bourget, a notable exception is Northrop Grumman. The aerospace giant sent aircraft and representatives to the UK’s Farnborough Air Show last year. It also exhibited at Langkwi. But Northrop has decided to skip Le Bourget. A complete list of exhibitors for the 2013 PAS is not yet available.
Major exhibitors from the United States include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Bell Helicopter and parent company Textron Systems. Still, Fournier believes the Air Force owes it to industry and its European allies to be present at Le Bourget. “First of all, it is export support for industry,” Fournier said. “They don’t show a C-17 because it’s a U.S. Air Force plane, it’s to support Boeing. It is the same for the C-130 and Lockheed. Also it is a cooperation between the U.S. and France … to demonstrate we are two countries working together in defense, not only in industry but NATO and military cooperation.”
The U.S. military must also consider its stance in the face of a resurgent Russia, which may be showcasing its fighter jets at Paris for the first time since 2007, Fournier said. “We will know within two weeks whether the Russian jets will be coming,” he said. “If so, they will be one of the stars of the show.”
The U.S. military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin, has never flown at an international air show. Several European nations have plans to purchase F-35s. Paris Air Show officials were hoping an F-35 would make it to the show, but have not received word of the aircraft’s flight status. "They [U.S. Defense Department officials] did not said ‘No.’ They did not said ‘Yes,’” Fournier said. “For the moment we have no news.”
With 250 companies represented, the United States is the second largest exhibiting country at the show, after France. Air show fficials said international aviation expos, and the foreign civil aviation market, are actually benefitting from a global downturn in military spending. “Concerning sequestration, it has pushed exhibitors to export and increase their participation … as the national defense budget is decreasing,” Fournier said.
D’Arcimoles listed declining defense budgets as one of the reasons that the 2013 show booked up in record time, alongside a 4-percent to 5-percent year-over-year growth in the international aviation industry. “Due to the decreasing of the military budget of the different countries for the exportation of their own production, [aircraft manufacturers] see they have to go to the international playing field more aggressively.”
Photo Credit: Air Force, Lockheed Martin