Airbus stole the limelight from Boeing and took home most of the orders, as was expected in the light of the worldwide grounding of the Max 737 aircraft, but the real talking point of the 53rd edition of the Paris Air Show was the coming of age of the concept of hybrid and electric aircraft.
The event, which paled in comparison to the 2017 edition in terms of total number of orders, saw the launch of Alice, the world’s first commercial all-electric passenger aircraft. Displayed in prototype form by Israeli firm Eviation, the aircraft, will carry nine passengers for up to 650 miles at 10,000ft at 276mph. The aircraft, which has three rear-facing pusher-propellers and a 3,500 kg battery, is expected to enter service in 2022. The aircraft already has its launch customer – US regional carrier Cape Air, which wants as many as 92 aircraft.
Meanwhile, French start-up VoltAero is getting ready to flight test its Cessna 337-based “Cassio 1” aircraft, which has its front engine replaced with propellers driven by electric motors. The company, which displayed its “iron bird” mockup incorporating the test hybrid power module at the air show, is also working on the Cassio 2 production prototype, which will have a fully validated propulsion system. The company is confident that the 4-9 seat aircraft, deliveries of which are to begin in 2021-2022, will be used for commercial flights for point-to-point regional travel and used by private owners as well as air taxi and charter operators.
A new era in aviation: It is not just start-ups; aviation powerhouses are joining the electric/hybrid bandwagon as well. Rolls-Royce has taken over Siemens’ electric and hybrid-electric aerospace propulsion business while United Technologies, which announced a merger with Raytheon days before the Paris Air Show, is working on a hybrid electric project, with the intention of having a mid-sized regional turboprop aircraft, which will have batteries and a 2-megawatt hybrid-electric propulsion system, in the air in three years. Company officials believe that certified hybrid-electric regional travel is possible within 10 years.
Boeing and American carrier JetBlue have invested in Zunum Aero, a company that is developing a hybrid aircraft. Airbus has plans to test a hybrid aircraft by 2022 and is working with Daher and Safran to make it happen. While Daher will be in charge of components and systems installation, Safran will make the aircraft’s propulsion system, named EcoPulse. Airbus will provide the batteries and aerodynamic design. Airbus has also signed a memorandum of understanding with SAS Scandinavian Airlines to research hybrid and electric aircraft systems. The company is already working on Vahana, the all-electric, self-piloted, VTOL aircraft.
Airbus Dominates: The event saw Airbus selling more aircraft than Boeing and announcing a new aircraft – the much anticipated A321XLR, which has a range of 4,700 nautical miles and 30% less fuel-burn per seat. There were immediate takers for the aircraft – Air Lease Corporation ordered 27 of the new aircraft on the opening day of the show while Middle East Airlines became the launch customer with four of the aircraft. American Airlines ordered 50 XLR aircraft while Indigo Partners signed for 32. Other buyers of the aircraft were Qantas Airways, which ordered 10 aircraft, Cebu Pacific Airlines (10 aircraft), and International Airlines Group (IAG,) which wants 14, with an option for 14 more. Flynas signed a memorandum of understanding for 10 A321XLRs and also revised its order to take ten A321neo instead of A320neo aircraft.
Airbus found takers for the A320 and A321 neo as well, with China Airlines, Cebu Pacific Airlines, and Saudi Arabian airlines signing on the dotted line. Among the other orders for the company at the show was one for 14 wide-body A330neos, by Virgin Atlantic; the carrier is also looking into buying six more of the aircraft. Air Lease Corporation’s order also comprises 50 A220-300s and 23 A321neos. JetBlue placed an order for 10 additional A220-300s and also converted 13 existing A321neo orders to the A321XLR. Delta Air Lines placed an order for an additional five A220-100s, taking it total order for the type to 90.
Boeing Springs a Surprise: In view of the continued grounding of the its bestselling 737 Max, not a lot was expected from Boeing in terms of new orders during the show, but the company sprung a major surprise on the second day by announcing a deal to deliver 200 737 Max aircraft to IAG. The US $24 billion order, the first since the second 737 Max crashed in March, evoked immediate controversy with Airbus complaining that it had not had a fair chance to compete for the order.
The American aerospace giant also announced a few other deals for some of its other aircraft. GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) signed an agreement with Boeing for 10 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighters (BCF) while ASL Aviation Holdings signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for 20 737-800 BCFs, including 10 firm orders and 10 purchase rights. British Airways ordered 18 777-9s with 24 options while Korean Air signed a deal for 30 new 787 Dreamliners. Air Lease Corporation intends to purchase five 787-9 Dreamliners.
Qatar Airways announced that it intends to buy five more 777 freighters while China Airlines ordered up to six 777 Freighters to modernize its fleet. Turkmenistan Airlines announced that it was buying another 777-200LR, to add to the three currently in service.
Even though the orders brought respite to Boeing, there were reasons to worry as well. There was no word on the company’s much-vaunted New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), in spite of rumors that the company would make an announcement at the show. The A321XLR is direct competition for the 757, but there is no word yet on its successor. The company had intended to showcase the Boeing 777X at the event but could not; the aircraft is yet to take its first flight following troubles with its GE Aviation engines.
Supersonic Flight and other highlights: Boom Supersonic (Boom), the Colorado company building history’s fastest commercial airliner, and Boom investor Japan Airlines announced that the XB-1, a two-seat supersonic demonstrator aircraft, will be ready for flight in December this year. The first supersonic flight is planned for 2020. The plan is to develop and build Overture, the first new supersonic commercial jet to emerge in 50 years. Service entry of Overture, originally planned for 2023, is now expected in the mid-2020s.
ATR signed 75 orders, including 17 for the new ATR 42-600S, at the event. Meanwhile, Bombardier had a moment to cheer when its flagship Global 7500 aircraft made its debut. Also making its first trip to the biggest air show in the world was Gulfstream Aerospace’s G600 business jet. On the defence side, Turkish Aerospace unveiled a full-scale mock-up of its fifth-generation Turkish Fighter, known as TF-X, while Dassault Aviation and Airbus presented a mock-up of a sixth-generation combat aircraft on the opening day of the show, one that will be the main aircraft of Europe’s Future Air Combat System (FCAS). France’s Safran and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines will jointly develop the new warplane’s engine.
Drones and counter-drones: Leonardo turned heads at the event by introducing the Falco Xplorer, its largest-ever Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS). The drone features a payload capacity of 350kg, is capable of more than 24 hours flight time and has satellite communications capability for beyond-radio-line-of-sight operations, all within a 1.3-ton maximum take-off weight (MTOW).
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) officials announced at the air show that the company is making steady progress on its MQ-9B SkyGuardian program, which has the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the launch customer. The RAF’s SkyGuardian, which has been named Protector, made the first ever transatlantic flight of a medium-altitude, long endurance aerial drone in July last year. Company President David Alexander told reporters that the company expects military-type certification by the British regulatory authorities in 2023 for the drone, which is the first remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) developed to fly in unsegregated airspace. The drone, which is equipped with detect-and-avoid suite, has attracted international attention, with Belgium gaining US approval to buy four aircraft.
In another positive development for the SkyGuardian program, GA-ASI and L3 Technologies, Inc. announced at the air show that they had developed and successfully flight tested a full-band Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) ISR capability for use on the Predator B Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).
Meanwhile, Raytheon, which is at the forefront of anti-drone technologies, announced at the event that it is partnering with counter-drone specialist Black Sage. The two companies will join forces to provide an integrated drone detection and mitigation system for civil authorities, critical infrastructure and military organizations. Raytheon’s range of counter-drone systems is broad and includes missiles, lasers, high-powered microwaves and drones. The partnership with Black Sage is to ensure an anti-drone solution that can be used not just in military environments but also in populated areas such as airports and cities.