PARIS – The French president descended from the skies in a European military plane and Airbus and Boeing raced to impress with big plane orders as the Paris Air Show got underway Monday.
French President Emmanuel Macron landed at the Bourget airfield in an Airbus A400-M military transport plane to launch the aviation showcase, where the latest passenger jets will vie for attention with an F-35 warplane, drones and other high-tech hardware.
Macron, trying to raise his international profile, appears to have chosen the A400-M to give a boost of confidence to the long-troubled European military transporter project.
French fighter jets swooped overhead as the biennial aviation and defence industry kicked off.
The industry is eager to show off its wares at the Paris show after a string of public relations embarrassments recently, from the United Airlines’ passenger getting dragged off a flight to British Airways’ massive outage.
Airbus announced the first big deal of the week: a firm order for 100 single-aisle A320neo planes by General Electric’s aircraft leasing arm, GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).
The A320neo range of jets, designed to use less fuel than the original and widely-used A320s, have proven popular and are competing with Boeing’s 737 Max series in the short to mid-range market.
Boeing announced plans Monday for a new, longer version of its 737 Max, the Max-10, with more flexibility and seating space.
Meanwhile the world’s two leading aircraft makers are facing growing competition from China. Its first large passenger jet, the C919, took its maiden flight last month, and is competing for market share with the A320 and 737 ranges.
Airbus also announced that it’s studying a more fuel-efficient version of the superjumbo A380, which has struggled to win a big customer base. The A380plus could carry 80 more passengers and fly slightly farther.
Airbus and Boeing are expected to bring in about 200 new orders each at this week’s show at Le Bourget, down from past years when Asian and Mideast carriers were growing fast.
Macron, who wants France to become more tech-savvy and comes off a big electoral win, tried on a virtual reality headset, and checked out Airbus satellites, a drone designed to inspect planes and a turbo-generator for hybrid-energy jets.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who recently returned from six months on the International Space Station, gave Macron a photo of earth he took from space and chatted about going to Mars as they looked at a model of Europe’s Mars Rover 2020.