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Paris Air Show opens in an air of uneasiness

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

LE BOURGET, France - No Russian MiG fighters. No U.S. top guns. Few really new aircraft.

And a goodbye hug for the supersonic Concorde passenger jet, now a museum piece.

It was a subdued Paris Air Show that opened Saturday with a visit from President Jacques Chirac.

The world's leading aviation trade conference, first held in 1909, suffers this year from a slumping aviation industry and the U.S military's decision to keep top brass at home, a move widely interpreted as retaliation for French opposition to the war in Iraq.

A leading theme is unmanned aerial vehicles, which got a public relations boost from their successful use in combat by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Regional jets are a focus, and French engine maker Snecma and Russia's Sukhoi touted plans to team up with Boeing on a new Russian regional jet. The plane, which would come in 60-, 75-, and 95-passenger versions, is on the drawing board.

But the Concorde provided the biggest spectacle Saturday, and Chirac watched the sleek, swept-wing craft land at Le Bourget airport. The planes have been taken out of service by Air France.

"In this plane there was a special spirit," said Air France pilot Eric Celerier, 57, who flew the plane from Paris to New York 400 times. "Anyone working on this plane was an enthusiast - pilots, flight attendants, mechanics."

Exhibit space is down 5 percent this year from the last show in 2001 and the number of planes on display decreased from 226 to 206. Show organizers and most companies said the downturn in the airline industry was the main reason.

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