Paris show to get large U.S. delegations

Congressional and government delegations, together with the defense and aerospace industries, are making final preparations for the 2007 Paris Air Show next week, one of the largest trade shows in the world.

The show, which takes place every other year, will be the last to take place while President Bush is in office and a large number of defense officials are expected to attend. In recent years, America’s presence has been limited due to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s standoffish attitude toward France.

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But with new leadership at the Pentagon and a new French president, the 47th Paris Air Show, held just outside the capital in Le Bourget, will enjoy increased U.S. attention and interest, several sources said. The United States is expected to be the largest exhibiting country after France.

The show focuses largely on commercial aerospace, but the competition for the Air Force’s new mid-air refueling tankers likely will be a hot topic among attendees. A team of Northrop Grumman and EADS North America is competing against Boeing for a contract that may be announced as early as September.

A sizeable contingent from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also expected to attend.

President Bush designated Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, as his representative. Stevens will be accompanied by a Senate delegation set to include several defense appropriators: Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and  Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who also is chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

Also planning to join them are Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla), a senior defense authorizer, and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). The federal government will sponsor the delegation.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been invited by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) to be part of his state’s delegation. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) is part of the delegation as well. Riley’s group, which will include members of the local community leadership and council members, first will visit an Airbus 330 final assembly facility in Toulouse. EADS, the parent company of Airbus and its U.S. subsidiary, has partnered with Northrop Grumman to compete against Boeing for a multibillion-dollar contract for the new Air Force mid-air refueling tanker. The EADS-Northrop Grumman team is offering the A330, and EADS is planning to open a manufacturing facility in Mobile, Ala., similar to the one in Toulouse.

“Since 2001, Alabama’s newest corporate partners, including Airbus, EADS and its partnerships with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, are helping to make the Southeast the epicenter of American aerospace excellence,” Bonner said in a statement.

“I fully hope to go to the air show and support these opportunities for new jobs for our region, and I hope some of my colleagues will be able to join Governor Riley on this important trans-Atlantic economic development mission.”

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.) also is scheduled to go to Paris.

The EADS conglomerate, which has been fighting to gain a foothold in the United States, will be on its own turf at the air show, but several U.S. defense giants will be holding their own as well, including Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Australia is planning to bring its own refueling tanker to the show, sources said. The Australian tanker is based on the A330.

Boeing does not plan to display its offering, the 767, but is compensating by hosting several tanker-related events.
Boeing’s defense showcase will feature a daily flying demonstration by the advanced, combat-proven strike fighter, the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The company and its Pentagon customers also will display the C-17 Globemaster III military transport, F-15E Eagle fighter jet, Harpoon missile and the AH-64D Apache Longbow and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The Pentagon will have Lockheed’s C-130 J and F-16 fighter at the show, as well as Sikorsky’s Black Hawk helicopter.

Also expected to attend the show are: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley; Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne; Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Dolores Etter; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition Claude Bolton; Pentagon weapons buyer John Young; Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conaway; and NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

The show, scheduled for June 18-24, comes as both the European and American aerospace industries are having “exceptionally good sales years,” the president of the Aerospace Industries Association, John Douglass, said. More importantly, companies  from both continents find themselves on the same page on several issues. Among the most crucial is a shared intent to develop new global ethics initiatives as well as a strong push to see U.S. export control laws changed, Douglass said.

“Our industry is a global industry,” said Douglass. “The show is more of a giant gathering of the clan and a giant networking opportunity.”

Brittney Moraski contributed to this report.