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Business

Air Show Highlights Europe's Future

The Paris Air Show showcased the future of flight, from superjumbos to midsize aircraft. Even dirigibles made a comeback. But above all, the week-long event highlighted Europe's contribution to aviation.

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The A380 steels the show

Hundreds of thousands of visitors descended on the airfield at Le Bourget near Paris for the final day of the weeklong air show Sunday. After the exhibit had been restricted to professionals for the first four days, the stands and displays of some 1,900 aviation manufacturers from 41 countries focused on showing off their contributions to the future of flight.

In the commercial aircraft sector, competing visions of flight services found a certain balance in superjumbo and midsize aircraft initiatives launched by Airbus and Boeing, respectively. The much hyped competition between the two rival manufacturers found expression in the air show's two key attractions: the Airbus A380 Boeing's 787.

Airbus's new A380, the world's largest commercial airplane, exemplifies the European aircraft maker's belief in strong demand for an aircraft that can deliver masses of passengers to major hub destinations such as Heathrow and Singapore.

The long-haul superjumbo, capable of carrying up to 840 people, is to be delivered to launch carrier Singapore Airlines in late 2006 for its first real commercial flights.

Airbus A380 Probefahrt

The A380 takes its maiden flight over southwestern France, April 27, 2005.

For its part, US manufacturer Boeing, announced it would decide next month whether to launch a bigger and better version of its 747, whose dominance on the jumbo market since the 1970s is threatened by the European newcomer.

Big competition for midsize aircraft

Meanwhile Boeing is also placing its bets on developments in the midsize market, where it hopes to get a one-up on Airbus. The US aviator's new 787 Dreamliner was conceived with the expectation that passengers prefer to fly point-to-point rather than having to change planes at busy hubs. The Chicago-based company built the plane using a high proportion of composite materials to save on fuel and maintenance costs, giving some relief to airlines plagued with soaring fuel bills.

Launched in April 2004 and due to enter service in 2008 with Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, the 787 has won 266 orders and commitments from 21 airlines.

Not to be left out, Airbus quickly jumped into the competition with its A350. Still on the drawing boards, with an official launch delayed until late September, the A350 only had 10 commitments to buy and 20 more tentative prior to this week's show. But then on the air show's opening day, Qatar Airways reversed the aircrafts fate by buying 60 of the A350 in what the airline said had been a "very hard" choice between the Airbus model and Boeing's 787.

Luftschiff Bodensee unterwegs nach Japan

Zeppelin NT's "Boddensee"

A historical comeback

But the real comeback story of the show was that of the Zeppelin NT. Another European aviation project, the new generation of dirigibles is expected to revolutionize the surveillance market. The giant balloons which can make fly-overs or remain stationary are expected to find widespread uses in monitoring a range of situations from maritime oil spills to road traffic control, forest fires and air quality tests.

Its manufacturer, a tie-up between Sofema Groupe of France and Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik of Germany, assured that new technologies make the dirigible much safer than their reputation. Zeppelins fell out of favor in the aviation sector following the 1937 fire and crash of the Hindenburg.

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