The world's planemakers set out their stalls alongside an airfield outside Paris on Monday hoping the biggest event on the aviation calendar will confirm that their industry is again ready for takeoff.
Dueling giants Boeing and Airbus and around 2,000 smaller aerospace suppliers came to the first Paris International Air Show since the end of the global financial crisis eyeing possible massive new airline orders.
Toulouse, France-based Airbus, the main subsidiary of European high-tech giant EADS, is on home turf and flying high on the back of Asian orders for its new A320 Neo worth more than $10 billion.
But Chicago-based Boeing struck first blood, announcing that Qatar Airways had ordered six additional Boeing 777-300 long-haul aircraft, worth $1.7 billion at list prices.
Airbus already had suffered a setback on Sunday when one of the firm's flagship A380 superjumbos clipped a structure by the taxiway on arrival and lost a wing tip, ruling it out of the thundering flight demonstrations that will split the suburban skies here all week.
Meanwhile, Airbus' long-troubled and much-delayed A400M military transport also was grounded with engine problems, and the company confirmed that delivery of two versions of its key A350 long-haul airliner will be delayed.
Boeing's 747-8 Makes Debut
Boeing, by contrast, successfully brought along its 747-8 Intercontinental, allowing the longer, modernized version of its trademark jumbo jet to make its international debut in great style on its rival's doorstep.
In recent years, the fast-growing emerging economies of Asia have helped keep plane sales buoyant amid gloom in Western markets, but on the eve of the show, Boeing admitted it expects China to become a rival as well as a client.
"They are improving all the time ... making huge investments," said Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing's commercial aircraft operations, saying Chinese aerospace firms will win sales "probably sooner than anyone thinks."
Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) is making its first appearance in Paris, with a mockup of the cockpit and fuselage of its C919, which targets the medium-haul market dominated by Boeing's B737 and Airbus' A320.
The first big order announced as Le Bourget opened its doors was by ATR, a joint venture of EADS and Italy's Alenia, which produces smaller regional jets and hopes to break a company order record during the show.
Chairman Filippo Bagnato told reporters that U.S. rental firm GE Capital Aviation Services will by 15 of his firm's ATR 72-600-Series jets and take an option on 15 more for a total of $680 million.
ATR hopes that by the end of the week its new orders for 2011 will total $2 billion, and confirm that it leads the regional-jet market alongside Canadian rival Bombardier.
Alternating year-by-year with Britain's Farnborough, the Le Bourget aviation show is the industry's showpiece event, and opened Monday with trade days for the industry and opening its doors to the public on Friday.
The business side of the event will be dominated by commercial aviation -- the military market being depressed by government-spending cutbacks -- but the scientific star of the show will be a unique solar-powered plane.
As big as an airliner with its 63-meter wingspan but as light -- at 1,600 kilograms -- as a family car, the Solar Impulse was to demonstrate the future of aviation with daily flights -- weather permitting -- around the site.
Its electric propellers are powered only by solar panels, and the team hopes that they can fly the craft all the way around the world to demonstrate their revolutionary technology to industry leaders.
Still more ambitious, but still on the drawing board, EADS will show off plans for a rocket-powered "Zehst" space plane capable of taking 100 passengers from Paris to Tokyo in two and a half hours.
EADS hopes to have a prototype by 2020 and for the plane to enter commercial service around 2050.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011