By the middle of the week, however, the mood had lightened. The rain gave way to bright sunshine, Boeing and others expressed confidence that the economy had hit bottom with a recovery on the horizon and Airbus was on its way to announcing firm orders for 58 aircraft valued at nearly $6.4 billion and MOUs for an additional 69 planes worth $6.5 billion.

"I must admit at the beginning of the week I was expecting a much quieter atmosphere, much more concerned with the downturn," Accenture Executive Director-Aerospace & Defense Damien Lasou told ATWOnline in an interview at Le Bourget as the business portion of the show wound down. "What I'm hearing [from commercial aircraft manufacturers] is positive. . .Airbus [is] announcing orders and Boeing is optimistic on maintaining production levels in 2010."

Indeed, the general consensus among show participants was that the economy appeared to have reached its nadir. Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Scott Carson commented, "It feels like we could be bouncing on the bottom." Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders added, "There is no certainty but it does feel to us that there are reasons to hope that the recovery will begin next year." Pratt & Whitney President David Hess said, "We're hopeful that we've hit bottom."

Lasou related that his conversations at the air show indicated an "optimistic atmosphere." He explained, "People are saying, 'How do I cope with the remaining couple of months of the downturn?'. . .They're discussing the future and business is getting done. . .This is a good sign for the commercial part of the aerospace industry."

Of course there are a number of qualifiers to the positive economic talk. IATA pointed out in its May traffic report released last week that "although the impact of the recession appears to be stabilizing, strong headwinds from debt and low asset prices are expected to weaken and delay any significant recovery." The US Air Transport Assn. reported that May mainline passenger unit revenue plunged 19.7% compared to May 2008.

CFM International President and CEO Eric Bachelet acknowledged in Paris that "there seems to be signs of a bottoming out on the overall economy," but he also warned: "On the aviation side, I'd be more cautious. We always have a lag" in aviation compared to general economic recovery.

IATA DG and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said the recession has been so profound that it is changing the nature of the air transport industry, rendering talk of a "usual" recovery moot: "We have lost several years of growth and yields are under severe pressure. Even if we look beyond the crisis, it is difficult to see a return to business as usual. This crisis is reshaping the industry."

Another ongoing area of concern is financing. Credit markets are still tight and both Boeing and Airbus have conceded they have little visibility beyond mid-2010 into the ability of airlines to finance aircraft through traditional means. Airbus admitted in Paris that government export credit agencies in France, Germany, Spain and the UK participated in about 40% of its deliveries this year, twice as many as in 2008. COO-Customers John Leahy said he hoped credit agencies would increase their participation to 50% of aircraft deliveries in 2010.

"Financing will not limit the recovery," Pratt's Hess insisted. "It's really going to be traffic. As passenger and cargo traffic recover, money will follow."

Lasou said that issues such as financing are "short-term" problems that can be overcome. "The key issue in aerospace is this is a long-term game," he explained. "Managing short-term issues like financing are just part of staying in the game long term. Airlines do better at some times and worse at others [and manufacturers] have to remain in position to sell aircraft in the better times."

At Le Bourget, both Boeing and Airbus said, "we believe we will make it," and are "ready for the end of the downturn," Lasou said. "That's the key. They need to manage through the downturn effectively to be ready for the recovery."