Paris Airshow Canceled in Blow to Aerospace Recovery

December 8, 2020 Updated: December 9, 2020

PARIS—The Paris Airshow has been canceled for the first time since World War II, raising questions about the speed of the aerospace industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Organizers said Europe’s largest industrial showcase, which attracts more than 300,000 people every other June in alternation with Britain’s Farnborough Airshow, wouldn’t go ahead next year because of the pandemic’s “unprecedented impact” on aerospace.

Aviation experts said the early cancellation reflected the high advance costs of the event, estimated to generate total spending by exhibitors and attendees of $1 billion, including $400 million on building, temporary hires, and security alone.

Scrapping the 2021 show also deprives the industry of a deadline to stimulate deals and focus attention on new products.

“The Paris Airshow could and should have been a catalyst for recovery. The organizers have clearly listened to the big exhibitors and decided it was not worth the risk,” said veteran analyst Howard Wheeldon, who has attended dozens of air shows.

“The bigger worry is that this is saying that confidence won’t be returning soon, not only in aviation but also in the wider post-COVID world,” he added.

The biennial jamboree traces its roots back to 1908 and had previously only been canceled during the 20th century’s two world wars.

The last edition at Le Bourget outside Paris generated contract announcements worth $140 billion.

Industry Barometer

Dominated by the duel for jetliner orders between Airbus and Boeing, the seven-day extravaganza had already become a tamer affair as demand peaked and a breed of cost-conscious executives less interested in the PR drumbeat entered industry boardrooms.

But the 2021 show was emerging as a barometer for fragile demand, especially as Boeing seeks to relaunch its 737 MAX after it was approved last month following a 20-month safety ban.

In one of the most dramatic air show coups of recent years, the planemaker unveiled a tentative 200-plane rescue order for the troubled MAX at the last event in 2019, but the fate of that order now looks uncertain as the coronavirus rips up growth plans.

In a sign of pandemic-related changes in doing business, which in turn threaten to crimp air travel, Boeing last week announced another key MAX order online on Zoom.

Airbus, which dates back to a Franco–German cooperation deal signed at the show in 1969 and which has made a practice of drumming up suspense over orders from Gulf and low-cost carriers, said canceling was “difficult … but responsible.”

By Tim Hepher