Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paris Air Show Displays Prowess on Weak Dollar, US Jetmakers Snatch Contracts from Europeans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paris Air Show Displays Prowess on Weak Dollar, US Jetmakers Snatch Contracts from Europeans

Article excerpt

IN the headlines and in the skies over Paris's Le Bourget airport, it looks like a big power matchup: the United States vs. Europe.

In the air, the latest-model fighter planes screech by - inverted - pull to a 70 degree angle of attack, roll, climb, reverse direction, then fly out straight and accelerate, leaving trails of twisted gray smoke to mark their passing. Lumbering supertransports do implausibly tight turns overhead, and attack helicopters appear to fly upside down.

On the ground, it's an "American offensive," according to the French daily Liberation, as the 41st Paris Air Show opened this week.

On the wings of a weak dollar, American companies are making inroads in European markets and snatching the big contracts needed to maintain jobs in an industry that has too many planes and too few buyers.

*President Clinton personally intervened to secure a $6 billion Saudi order for the Boeing Company and McDonnell Douglas Corporation. The White House announced the order in February 1994, and it is all but confirmed, according to reports released this week.

*In April, the Dutch government opted for 30 US McDonnell Douglas Apache combat helicopters over European rival Eurocopter's Tiger.

*According to British press reports this week, the Apache is favored to win a key British Army contract for 90 combat helicopters. After the Saudi purchase, the British order is the key military contract of the season, expected to be decided in July.

But there are sharp disagreements among industry leaders in Europe and the United States over how to face up to this competition.

Some industry leaders, led by the French, call for a "European preference" in contracts, to combat what they see as aggressive US support for its industry abroad and a seven-year US "Buy America" strategy at home. Others reject such strategies and, instead, aim to build partnerships that ensure a balance of jobs and contracts across national boundaries.

'Disappearing' industry

Days after the April 7 Dutch decision in favor of the US Apache helicopter, the president of France's Aerospatiale warned that the European aeronautics industry is in danger of "disappearing." Serge Dassault, president of the French aeronautics trade association, called for a "European preference," especially in military purchases.

The stakes are especially high in France, which has lost close to 30 percent of its industrial employment in 20 years, according to a report released this week by the French economic institute Rexecode. Jobs in France's aeronautics sector have dropped 15 percent in three years.

"Europe must be preferred in our aeronautic choices," French President Jacques Chirac said when he inaugurated the Paris Air Show last Saturday. "Without European cooperation, our continent's industry would have disappeared long ago in the absence of a critical scale necessary in a world market. …

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