LE BOURGET, France — With the deafening roar of Dassault Rafales taking to the sky in the background, the town of Le Bourget, non-descript suburb ten miles north of Paris, is suddenly almost as alive today as when Charles Lindbergh landed here in 1927 after the first solo flight across the Atlantic.
Lindbergh’s gone, but the Paris Air Show, at France’s oldest airport, remains a hot ticket for a week in the middle of June. Instead of the ecstatic throngs who cheered Lindbergh and carried him across the tarmac, the demographic today is well-heeled, in dark suits and wing-tips (supposedly making deals), along with military types in medal-studded uniforms and the inevitable politicians, whose motorcades tie up the traffic in the town.
The show, scheduled to last until this weekend when the general public can attend, is an expansive fair with passenger airplanes and fighter jets parked side-by-side. There are flight demonstrations every day. Gawkers with inadequate cameras are giddy as they try to capture the sights and sounds.
The Paris Air Show is also where Airbus and Boeing battle openly to one-up each other — every day — by touting the orders each has racked up. The media goes along with them, dutifully reporting the daily tallies as though this decades-old feud is fresh news.
Despite its commitment to displaying machines designed to fly, there are unwelcome flying objects at the Paris Air Show. Drones are grounded.
Parrot, best known as a manufacturer of leisure drones, set up a tent at the Paris Air Show, right next to big boys like Airbus, Thales, GE and Rolls-Royce. This is Parrot’s second appearance here. However, all its toy drones could only perform their crowd-pleasing choreography inside a cage, just as they did at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Yannick Levy, Parrot's vice president of corporate business development, acknowledged the tight regulations on drones. But he told us that Parrot did get special permission to fly its drones outdoors over Le Bourget — but only during off-hours, at the crack of dawn, 5 a.m., on Tuesday (June 16). The company did so not for the crowd but to get its own aerial video footage of the Paris Air Show.
EE Times attended the Paris Air Show this year, with a particular focus on covering drones — civilian drones especially.
In contrast to the U.S. civil drone industry, which complains that the Federal Aviation Administration’s pending rule on drones is a drag on their business, the French drone industry has seen the launch of numerous unmanned vehicle companies since 2012 when the DGAC (French civil aviation authority) published regulations on drone use.
According to the French newspaper, Les Echos, the civil drone sector in France today includes some 1,500 companies, with sales revenue for this emerging industry estimated at 50 million euros last year. As EE Times learned from various drone companies at the Paris Air Show, SNCF, France's state-owned railway company, and EDF, the French electric utility, have already bought into the idea of using drones to survey their infrastructure. Other players in the civil engineering sector and quarry owners, for example, are also getting into the action.
Meanwhile, consolidations and mergers are beginning to take place among drone vendors in Europe.
A good example is Parrot, which just announced last week its investments in SenseFly, Pix4D and Airnov. Each comes with a set of expertise, said Levy, critical to the drones’ mission — ranging from “inspection and mapping to agriculture and surveillance.”
Drones come in all shapes and sizes, loaded with sensors for collecting data. Each has its own on-board computer for autonomous flying and analyzing data. As more hardware is packed into drones, space for batteries gets squeezed, hampering their flying time.
The basic technologies necessary for self-driving cars — including sensors, lidars, connectivity and real-time mapping capability — also apply to drones.
Design tools for embedded systems and software are in full force to optimize systems designs, calibrate algorithms and design new best materials. Many drone companies were stuck in small booths at the Air Show exhibition halls, but they drew constant crowd attention, illustrating the fierce race already under way in the new industry.
Following is a slideshow of the Paris Air Show, to give you a glimpse of the show’s atmosphere along with exhibits of several drones displayed.
Flying Beyond Line of Sight
Delair-Tech is one of the leading drone makers in France, known as the first civilian UAV in the world approved by an official government agency to fly beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS). The company’s drone DT18 cleared the stringent S-4 category (BVLOS drones) regulations set up by the Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile, the French aviation authority.
The conditions for the S-4 requirements include, among others, constant communication from the drone to the ground, featuring a forward looking camera, and the ability to perform fail-safe scenarios (in progressively-escalating sequence) when facing danger. All of this had to be accomplished by a drone that weighs less than 2Kg, explained Benjamin Benharrosh, head of sales and marketing at Delair-Tech.
The current version of DT18, the best-selling UAV in the Delair-Tech fleet, comes with 3G telecom abilities, while 4G is an option.
With a 1.8 meter wingspan, it can fly 100km in total. Asked how it has prolonged the flight time of the DT18, which runs on the lithium polymer batteries, Benharrosh said that Delair-Tech designed every component from scratch including a pitot sensor (a differential pressure sensor used to measure the speed of the airplane) – in its effort to reduce weight. Batteries are embedded in the wings. The company, located in Toulouse shares laboratories with Airbus, which has helped Delair-Tech develop new materials, he added.
Bombardier CSeriese finally debuts
Bombardier’s largest commercial jet, the CS300, took to the skies of Paris on Monday to mark the opening of the Paris Air Show.
The 100-150 seat CSeries is said to be two years late and over-budget.
After having suffered from a turbulent development, lengthy delays and changes in top management, Bombardier put its CSeries into the spotlight in hopes of marking a turning point in its troubled history.
To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.