Dassault Aviation expects the sale of 126 Rafale fighters to India to go through before the end of this year.

On the eve of the Paris air show at Le Bourget, France is exuding a quiet confidence that the contract for the sale of 126 Rafale fighters will be concluded before the year-end.

The opening of the air show this year coincides with annual Indo-French Foreign Office Consultations when Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai meets his French counterpart Pierre Sellal in Paris on Monday.

Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier told journalists in a pre-air show interview that despite talks with the Indians being “pretty hard-nosed,” he expected the sale of 126 Rafale fighters to go through before the end of this year. “We would like talks to conclude as soon as possible. If we listen to our Indian friends and if we hear ourselves, we would like to finish in 2013. Finish means signing a contract,” Mr. Trappier, who took the reins early this year, said.

Good-humoured talks

Mr. Trappier brushed aside reports of negotiations being difficult, saying talks were “good humoured.”

He said there had “never been obstacles” and discussions now closely focused on Indian licence production, assemblage and component manufacture for 126 fighters. India has an option for another 63 aircraft, which is currently under discussion.

The Dassault chief’s remarks come on the heels of the publication of France’s Defence Review that indicates that the French defence establishment expected the deal to go through this year with deliveries beginning in 2016 or 2017 at the latest. Alain Ruello, writing in the French daily Les Echoes, said the defence review currently being elaborated was based on the hypothesis that the sale of Rafale jets to India would go through by the end of this year.

“That’s the hypothesis we are at and with which we shall remain for the moment,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was quoted by Les Echoes as saying. The Minister is likely to go to India in July to push the contract, it is learnt.

Dassault produces 11 Rafales each year and claims it is impossible to go below that level without jeopardising the equilibrium of the programme.

This costs the French military €1.2 billion per year of a total military budget of €5.7 billion per year. The outright sale of 18 aircraft — it takes about three years to build a plane — will give Dassault the much-needed oxygen.

The Paris air show turns 50 this year. Hordes of plane-spotters crowded motorway bridges over the weekend near the show grounds at Le Bourget to catch a glimpse of air acrobatics as pilots put fighter aircraft through their paces during practice sessions and trials.

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus unveiled its new wide body A-350 passenger plane and rumour has it that its books show a healthy stack of orders totalling over $72 billion.

“Once again it’s going to be a battle royale between Airbus and Boeing. This year it is Airbus that has snatched the lead from its American rival, which was riding high with its Dreamliner at this very same air show two years ago. Boeing is clearly on the backfoot because of the problems with the Dreamliner’s lithium batteries and Airbus has just shared the happy news that it has bagged another massive order from Air Asia, the Malaysian low-cost carrier for $18 billion,” said aviation analyst Antoine Meder.

But most of Airbus orders come not from the A350, the first commercial plane the aircraft maker has unveiled in six years since it launched its superjumbo A 380, but from the revamped single aisle A320 which has been renamed the A320neo or New Engine Option.

Air Asia’s order, described as the single largest aircraft order in civil aviation history, came on the heels of an order for 72 planes by India’s low-cost flyer GoAir.

While drones and wide body aircraft are expected to dominate this year’s show, military aircraft and are also very much present.

More In: World | International | News