French organizers are taking great pains to downplay the transatlantic political tensions and are insisting that they expect a strong U.S. presence. About 277 exhibitors from the U.S. have signed up; the show will have a total of 1,623 exhibits this year, down from 1,865 in 2001.
"The United States and France have always supported each other and share a common experience. This will be illustrated during this exhibition," the organizers said in a statement. "The Americans who are used to exhibiting at the Paris Air Show have once again registered, and their participation is maintained."
The organizers are right, according to U.S. industry officials, because many American companies paid for exhibition space long before the Iraq war and can't afford to back out now.
"It's a good excuse to cut back, but if you've got something to sell, you've got to go," said Gilbert Speed, publisher of an industry newsletter for aerospace suppliers.
The industry "has been looking for ways to reduce the cost of participating in the air show since the end of the Cold War," said Jim Fetig, a Raytheon spokesman. The nation's fourth-largest defense firm expects to send about 80 people to Paris, down from about 140 in 2001. "We're going to continue to assess our presence and review the show year by year," he said.
But Kutler noted that having the air show in Paris has distinct, timeless advantages.
"People ask me why if the U.S. has the biggest aerospace industry, the biggest show is in Paris," he said. "And I tell them it's because the wives of the chief executives would rather go to Paris than to Dayton, Ohio."