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PARIS AIR SHOW

AIRBUS

Boeing and Airbus face battle in skies over Paris

The world's biggest air show takes to the skies on Monday, with a battle between Boeing and Airbus for orders in the lucrative market for wide-body planes set to dominate the Paris event.

Boeing and Airbus face battle in skies over Paris
Airbus's new A350 long-haul aircraft does a taxi test at Toulouse-Blagnace aerodrome in south-western France on June 11th. Photo: Eric Cabanis/AFP

European manufacturer Airbus managed to steal a march on its American rival before the show – at Le Bourget just north of Paris – with a successful maiden flight of its new A350 long-haul plane.

Airbus is pinning its hopes on the fuel-efficient A350 to compete in the long-haul sector after gradually winning more than half of the market for medium-haul, single-aisle planes that carry an average of 150 passengers.

The A350 is expected to conduct a fly-by of the air show towards the end of the week, hoping to woo potential customers.

During the show, famous for high-profile announcements of big-money deals, Airbus hopes to add a slew of orders for the plane – set for delivery at the end of 2014 – to confirmed contracts with Qatar Airways, British Airways and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific.

Nevertheless, Boeing is also entering the show in bullish mood as it seeks to move on from its difficulties with the trouble-prone 787 Dreamliner.

Technical problems with overheating batteries forced the worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner fleet in a major setback for the Seattle-based manufacturer.

Boeing will showcase the Dreamliner at the event and the firm is expected to announce the launch of its 787-10X, a longer version of the original Dreamliner, which can accommodate up to 330 passengers.

The US firm is also set to announce in the coming months an up-to-date version of its existing 777, with wings made of fuel-saving composite material like the Dreamliner.

Boeing boss Ray Conner said it was going to be a "great competition" and said that airlines would "benefit from the fact that both companies are going to have a good wide-body product line."

"I think we have the better products and at the end of the day, hopefully the better product wins," Conner told reporters on Sunday.

Airbus has positioned the A350 for the market between the popular 777 and the 787, hoping to steal share away from both planes.

The European firm argues that its craft will consume six percent less fuel than the 787 and a quarter less than the 777.

Boeing's strategy, on the other hand, is to offer its clients a wider choice of long-haul airliners but Tom Enders, boss of Airbus parent company EADS, said "the jury was still out" in terms of the firms' respective market situation.

"It's premature to draw any conclusion and it's not necessarily the one who has more products who is also better positioned on the market," said Enders.

And analysts warned that Boeing's recent technical troubles may yet haunt the US firm.

"Airbus can, and will, argue that Boeing's ability to execute is questionable and that the A350 is a better bet in terms of timing and availability," said Richard Aboulafia, a US-based aviation expert.

But the Paris air show, in its 50th edition this year, is not just about commercial battles and the long-awaited A400M military transport plane will also likely provide a highlight as it takes to the skies.

The market in unmanned surveillance drones will also be in focus after three top European defence companies urged the creation of a European programme to manufacture the craft, currently available only from Israel or the United States.

The Paris Air Show runs from June 17 to 23. It is expected to welcome some 350,000 visitors through its cavernous show halls.

The event, which has become the global aviation industry's largest in terms of surface and number of exhibitors, will throw open its doors to the public on June 21 after first welcoming professionals.

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TAXI

Paris aims to beat Olympic traffic with flying taxis

Paris aims to give visitors to the 2024 Paris Olympics a flying start by offering airborne taxis to tournament sites straight from the airport.

Paris aims to beat Olympic traffic with flying taxis
An Airbus image showing what the taxis might look like. Photo: Airbus
Arrivals in the City of Light currently face an hour-long haul by train or bus into town from Charles de Gaulle airport to the north of Paris.
   
But if Aeroports de Paris (ADP), Airbus and the RATP regional transport have their way passengers, right after their jets have taxied to a halt on the runway, will be able to take to the air once again with a self-flying urban taxi of the future.
   
The firms used this past week's Paris Air Show to say the Olympics afforded the perfect opportunity to bring into service futuristic Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) machines, and that they would launch a feasibility study.
   
“In 2010, for the first time, more than half of humanity was living in urban zones and we think we shall surpass 60 percent by 2030,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.
   
The time had now come to vault up to “the third dimension” of local commutes — air, he said.
 
“If we have the conviction that in the next five, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years low altitude is a space to be conquered we have to put in place the conditions today,” said ADP Group's executive director general Edward Arkwright.
   
VTOL converts are already sprouting in number as the world looks to move beyond — or rather, above — today's saturated motorways and growing environmental concerns.
   
Back on the ground, the view has been muddied by a delay beyond the Games, to 2025, of the express fast train designed to cut congestion and travel time between Charles de Gaulle airport and the city centre. 
   
For aircraft manufacturer Airbus, airport manager ADP and RATP, which manages Parisian public transport services, the Games are a chance to showcase French savoir-faire in urban mobility.
 
Multitude of projects
 
ADP has until the end of the year to choose a site for a “Vertiport” capable of hosting taxis from one of 10 aerodromes in the region around Paris.
   
The idea is to have the venue ready in 18 months, requiring infrastructure investment of some ten million euros ($11.3 million), says Arkwright. He adds the project will test out the link “via an existing helicopter corridor”.
   
Ideally, the service would see the taxis take off every six minutes.
   
In order to make VTOL a reality by 2024, ADP is working alongside Airbus, which has for some years been involved in full electric propulsion urban mobility schemes.
   
The manufacturer already has two prototype models — the single-seater “Vahana” and the four-seater variant “CityAirbus”.
   
Faury explained that “the two projects will converge towards a vehicle that will respond to first cases of use.”
   
“This partnership is a unique opportunity to develop technological solutions, a product, a regulatory framework, an economic model,” Faury added.
 
'Important stage'
 
“This project reduces constraints not only in terms of infrastructure but also concerning air traffic as it involves experimenting in a specific (air) corridor,” said Jean-Louis Rassineux, head of aeronautics and defence issues for Deloitte. “It is large scale rollout which is going to be complicated,” Rassineux told AFP.
   
Along with required progress on battery power and anti-collision detection he said there were “constraints regarding compatibility and traffic regulation.” 
   
But there is also the issue of the extent to which the concept will gain widespread public acceptance.
   
Rassineux warned there would need to be “security levels as stringent as those for air traffic” as well as “real value added to existing transport” systems.
   
Deloitte estimates the size of the airborne taxi market at some $17 billion for the United States alone through to 2040.
   
Yet “there remains some way to go before a flying vehicle becomes integrated into urban transport,” cautioned France's transport minister, Elisabeth Borne.
   
Borne nonetheless sees moves towards creating an embryonic service in time for the 2024 games as “one of the important stages” towards “the emergence of a complete transport offering” which would be “integrated and which respects the environment”.  
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