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Less show, more biz at ILA

May 31, 2016

One of Europe's most important aviation and aerospace trade fairs, the ILA Berlin Air Show, kicks off Wednesday near the German capital. Exhibitors have only four days to strike deals, two days fewer than usual.

Heron drone at ILA 2016
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Berlin's ILA Air Show is the third most important trade fair in the aviation sector behind La Bourget in France and Farnborough in Britain. While it's not as big as its top rivals, the Berlin show has the distinction of being the oldest of its kind globally.

It was first held in 1909, when there were no airplanes to see, but visitors were able to marvel at dirigible balloons - one of which had only just crossed the English Channel. Back then, the first show lasted a full 100 days. In 2016, by contrast, exhibitors from around the globe only have four days to accomplish whatever they've come here for.

The business environment for this year's ILA looks propitious. Air traffic is growing globally. Recent estimates project that the number of civil flights will double to 7 billion over the next twenty years, up from 3.5 billion in 2015.

Aircraft fleets are expanding to meet growing demand, particularly in Asia. But even in Europe, leading budget carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet have been modernizing and expanding their passenger aircraft fleets.

Low fuel prices are another reason for the industry to look to the future with confidence. For aircraft makers, that's leading to full order books. Given exuberant growth prospects, industry insiders don't seem too worried by the fact that the two giants in the sector, Boeing and Airbus, have both seen their bottom-line profit drop recently. Lucrative deals are almost certain for the two behemoths at ILA 2016, at least in the civil aviation segment.

Sluggish military aircraft business

The weaponized aircraft segment should prove more of a problem, as the two biggest aircraft makers are still grappling with legacy issues. Europe's Airbus has encountered materials problems in its A400M jet engines, while its rival across the Atlantic has seen development costs for its KC-46 aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft spiral out of control.

Replica of Lilienthal's glider
Replica of Lilienthal's glider in action at ILA 2016Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

The European Space Agency (ESA) is also a regular at the ILA show. This year, it'll be providing an overview of its current research programs. Among other things, ESA is taking part in the US-led Orion project aimed at revitalizing manned spaceflight endeavors. Experts are working on more trips to the Moon and beyond.

By contrast, Germany's aeronautics and space research center (DLR) is not ashamed of looking backward in time, rather than forward. Using a wind tunnel, scientists have put to the test a replica of one of aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal's gliders, designed more than a century ago. At the air show in Berlin, they're demonstrating to visitors what must have caused Lilienthal to crash-land on August 9, 1896, incurring injuries of which he died a day later.

hg/nz (dpa, Reuters)