The famous Paris International Air Show opened Monday amidst troubled times for the airline industry with plummeting sales, employee layoffs, canceled orders, rising oil prices, and the recent as-yet unexplained crash of Air France Flight 447.
Against the cloudy backdrop, key airline manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus expressed optimism at the show. Scott Carson, president and chief executive of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, told reporters on Monday that he believes the recessionary downturn in the commercial aircraft market has hit bottom.
"Are we down in the dumps about the status of this industry? Have we allowed the current economic situation to overwhelm us and discourage us from the path ahead? The answer is absolutely no," said Carson. "At this point it appears to us that the economic conditions have bottomed. If they have bottomed and a recovery comes next year, I think we have a shot at getting through."
Boeing has been hard at work prepping its new 787 Dreamliner airline. The new plane had been hit by severe delays over the past year but seems to be on the launch pad for an upcoming test flight. Hopes were high at the air show that visitors might be the first to witness the 787 in action. But Boeing didn't want to rush things.
"If you were expecting the 787 to fly during the air show you will be disappointed," said Carson. "If it had happened during the air show, it would have been great, but it was never our intention. The airplane will fly when it is completely ready."
Meanwhile, France's Airbus has reason to pop the champagne. In one of the show's few orders for commercial aircraft, Qatar Airways said on Monday it would buy 24 of Airbus' top-selling A320 planes for $1.9 billion. This is an increase in Qatar's order of four A321 airlines announced last year.
Airbus had already expressed a positive tone at a press conference ahead of the show on Saturday. Hit by 21 canceled orders so far this year, Airbus chief executive officer Tom Enders said the cancellations are helping to trim the company's order backlog of 3,500 airliners that it must still deliver.
"The weak sisters have left the backlog," noted Enders. "I'm quite happy that some of the order backlog is melting down."
Enders believes Airbus will still deliver the same number of aircraft this year as it did last year, a record 483, and now an amount helped by Qatar's A320 order.
The Paris International Air Show is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The show runs every two years, and organizers expect close to 300,000 visitors this year, around the same as in 2007. More than 2,000 companies are exhibiting.