100th anniversary overshadowed by sagging economy, Air France crash

The Paris Air Show opened Monday to a lukewarm audience. Boeing Co. failed to rake in any orders the first day, while rival Airbus didn't do much better. The mood of the event is gloomy as it comes during a global recession and on the heels of the crash o

REMY DE LA MAUVINIERE

LE BOURGET, France — Boeing didn't score a single jet order, and its competitor Airbus didn't fare that much better on Monday's opening day of the Paris Air Show, where the mood among the world's aviation industry leaders was as damp as the weather.

Worries about the unexplained crash of Air France Flight 447 hung in the air as airlines and planemakers gathered at the 100th anniversary of the world's first and largest air show. Pouring rain at the Le Bourget air field, combined with plunging revenue, layoffs and unprecedented losses in the industry, set the stage for a modest gathering.

While defiant Boeing Co. executives said the overall prospects were robust, the Chicago-based aviation giant reported no new orders Monday. Airbus announced just one, from Qatar Airways, for 24 jets from the A320 family worth $1.9 billion.

At the opening day of the industry's last major show, in Farnborough, England, a year ago, airlines from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries booked orders for about 150 planes worth more than $25 billion.

Gulf-based carriers were among the few pulling out their checkbooks this year.

Qatar Airways' head, Akbar al-Baker, announced firm orders for 20 single-aisle A320s and confirmed a commitment for four A321 jets announced last year at the Farnborough Air Show.

Russian planemaker Sukhoi, peddling its SuperJet 100 at the air show, netted promised orders from Hungary's Malev for 30 jets worth up to $1 billion. But it was a commercial sleight of hand, since Malev was bought by Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank in a high-profile deal earlier this year.

Canada's Bombardier announced it had won, confirmed or converted a total of 35 firm orders for its CRJ1000 NextGen jets by Spanish regional carrier

Air Nostrum, in deals worth a total of $1.75 billion.

Boeing warned last week not to expect a flurry of orders. Its defense business is hoping to make up for lagging commercial sales, and weakening U.S. military sales, through rising international exports.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems announced Monday the launch of an Unmanned Airborne Systems division, which will group all the company's drone projects to better compete for military contracts.

The formation of the new division reflects the growing interest by various air forces in unmanned aerial vehicles for everything from high-altitude surveillance and coastal patrols to tracking natural disasters.

Boeing's commercial aircraft chief sought Monday to strike a positive tone.

"At this point it appears to us that the economic conditions have bottomed," said Scott Carson, president and chief executive of Boeing's commercial aircraft division. "If they have bottomed and a recovery comes next year, I think we have a shot at getting through."

Airbus' order tally advanced to 56 Monday. After cancellations, net orders to date total 35.

Both planemakers are cushioned by order backlogs of around 3,500 planes.

Already reeling from the global recession, the industry gathering near where Air France Flight 447 should have landed only two weeks ago has been shaken by the still-unexplained crash. Investigators have only two more weeks to find the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the Airbus A330 jet before the signals emitted by small beacons on the so-called black boxes start to fade. Without them, the cause of the May 31 accident might never fully be known.