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Paris Air Show 2023: A Resounding Return as Aviation Industry Takes Off Again

While the subcontinent's quest for aircraft grabs headlines in Paris, billion-dollar upstart Riyadh Air brings a different flavor to the world's biggest air show

by Andreas Spaeth

June 22, 2023

Photo: Boeing 777X. Anthony Guerra / Paris Air Show

The first Paris Air Show after a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic is over, and it has been a good one for the industry. The world’s biggest and most prestigious aviation event clearly shows aviation is back on track as a growth industry after a near-death experience only three years ago.

The indicator seen as the most important gauge of an air show’s success is usually the number of aircraft orders revealed on this big stage in the global limelight. In sheer units, at last count by industry portal Flightglobal, 1,266 order and option announcements have been made during the show, ranking the 2023 edition of the Paris Air Show as third among other big air shows in the last ten years.

Photo: Static Display. Anthony Guerra / Paris Air Show

Of these commitments, 1,082 were new firm orders, the rest letters of intent or options. Most interesting is that of the total count, 1,044 are from India.

While many announcements are deliberately held back until announced in Paris, the real suspense and drama of last-minute sales negotiations, postponed press conferences, and uncertainties are the exception these days.

In a surprising turn of events, IndiGo, India’s leading domestic carrier, stole the spotlight with a historic announcement. The low-cost airline placed a rumored record-breaking order for 500 Airbus A320 Family aircraft, overshadowing all other news on the first day of the event. The magnitude of the order is unprecedented in the industry. These new planes are scheduled to be delivered from 2030 onwards, serving as replacements and fueling the airline’s growth ambitions.

Photo: Courtesy of Airbus

Expressing his delight, Pieter Elbers, CEO of IndiGo since September 2022 and former KLM CEO, highlighted the milestone’s significance. “This has never been done before in the industry. This is a very proud day for IndiGo and for myself,” he said.

Air India, owned by Tata Group, bought 470 planes from Airbus and Boeing in February, including A320/321neos, Boeing 737 MAXs, 787s, and A350-900/-1000s. CEO Campbell Wilson signed the contracts on the second day of the Paris Air Show, making it official.

Akasa Air, yet another low-cost start-up from India, has included four more 737 MAXs to its current orders. This adds to the already considerable presence of subcontinent carriers in Paris.

Photo: Philippine Airlines, Airbus A350-1000. Courtesy of Airbus.

Several leasing companies made commitments in Paris, with a few airlines agreeing to new deals. Air Mauritius opted for three A350-900s, while Philippine Airlines went for nine A350-1000s. Qantas took nine additional narrow-body A220s, and Volaris, a Mexican low-cost airline, committed to 25 A321neos from Airbus.

Luxair became Europe’s Boeing 737 MAX 7 launch customer, ordering four jets, while Envoy Airlines purchased seven Embraer E175s for its American Airlines feeder flights. Porter Air from Toronto struck a deal with leasing company Avolon for ten Embraer E2s as part of their expansion.

Photo: Airbus A321XLR, Paris Air Show 2023. Courtesy of SIAE 2023 Gilles ROLLE

Although no new airliners were introduced at Le Bourget, a new airline called Riyadh Air from Saudi Arabia made a unique appearance.

The Arab airline showcased its first livery in dark blue on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner company aircraft, even though they won’t have their first customer for another two years. Riyadh Air already has 39 of these planes on order.

The large kingdom is expanding its horizons and aims to become a top-tier tourist destination by introducing new air travel options.

Riyadh Air’s CEO, Tony Douglas—who previously was at the helm of Etihad Airways—has announced plans to offer a world-class onboard experience that will set the standard for other airlines.

Additionally, Riyadh Air will not provide traditional First Class seating but instead a “Business Class plus” option for its high-end customers.

Until Next Year, Farnborough

The Paris Air Show 2023 has come to a close, marking a significant milestone for the aviation industry as it signals a strong recovery and resurgence after a challenging period.

India emerged as a prominent player with IndiGo’s groundbreaking order, which stole the spotlight. Other Indian carriers, such as Air India and Akasa Air, also made substantial commitments, further reinforcing the subcontinent’s presence at the event.

Beyond India, various leasing companies and airlines worldwide demonstrated their conviction in the industry’s future by entering into new agreements and expanding their fleets.

Photo: Courtesy of the Farnborough International Air Show

As the curtains close on the Paris Air Show, it is evident that the aviation industry has regained its strength and is poised for a prosperous future driven by innovation, customer experience, and strategic partnerships.

The Farnborough International Air Show, taking place from July 22-26, 2024, will be an important indicator of how the industry responds to this year’s trends and responsiveness from regions beyond India and Asia.