Paris Air Show
Getting to the Paris Air Show is not easy. The RER from Paris Centre that was meant to stop at Le Bourget glides past the station and stops at Aulnay, where hundreds of suited delegates have to cross the platform to get a train back. This mishap is typical of RER, whose trains seem constantly to have problems. It even makes me appreciate South West Trains. By the time we arrive it is pissing down and a huge queue has accumulated for the shuttle to the vast hangers of the show.
The show ground is vast and it is remarkable to speculate how many thousands of sales people and visitors are involved in the airline industry. Being Paris Air Show, I was expecting lots of nice planes from the likes of Airbus and Boeing, but I soon learn the defence companies, now known as ‘security’, form the biggest part of the show.
Companies like MBDA, who sell missile systems -bombs to you and me – have a vast display with an impressive graphics backdrop that changes and evolves over a 3 minute cycle. A team of 20 salespeople hover with their clipboards, ready to pounce when any interest is expressed by the visitors.
Touring round the displays I soon notice the flowers. Virtually every stand has floral arrangements, and the more destructive or offbeat the contents of the stand, the more elaborate the display. The florists of Paris must have had a good week.
From time to time I bump into assorted military personnel doing the rounds. Russians and Chinese get everybody excited as they have money to spend. But when I meet the Minister of Defence from Burkina Faso looking at a helicopter he confesses he has no cash, but just wanted to see what the big boys spend their budgets on. At the other end of the scale the Russian Defence Minister has a huge entourage. This includes attachés, press and assorted hangers on, keenly awaiting his every utterance.
By noon the rain has ceased and planes are starting to fly and perform and now we can get down to the real business of watching and marvelling at the latest aircraft, with a few vintage ones thrown in. There seems to be quite a lot of plane spotters in attendance, which is a surprise given the professional clientele, but it seems that for 37 euros you can get access before the show opens to the public.
Of course people looking up into the sky, normally with a camera, is a nice gift for me, but it is easy to forget that the crowd here really love aeroplanes in a way I can never really appreciate. When a new fighter jet swoops by upside down there is a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.
One thing is also clear; there is a huge amount of hospitality going on. The site is riddled with electric vehicles, all sponsored by different companies, rushing assorted suited men and generals from many countries to the latest meal, with wine, which is provided in the chalets overlooking the runway. This, it seems, is the way to sell planes.
By the end of the show both Airbus and Boeing announce new sales north of $60 Billion. This is a very big business indeed.