In the world of aviation and aeronautics, there is nothing quite like the Salon Aeronautique at Le Bourget, informally known as the Paris Air Show, which alternates annually with Britains Farnborough Air Show as the worlds premier showcase of things that fly and what makes them fly.
Although hundreds of companies present their wares, and thousands of VIP buyers from all over the world are on hand to check out the latest technologies, at the week-long Paris Air Show that opens today the underlying main event is between the European aeronautical and space consortium EADS and Boeing of Seattle and Chicago.
Unlike the WEF at Davos or the spring and summer summits of the IMF-World Bank or even the G-20 parleys, where nothing ever materializes except great expectations and promises for a better future for humanity, the air shows at Paris and Farnborough deliver tangible evidence of progress. The only other showcase that comes close to meeting realitys expectations is the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, but theres hardly a comparison between an iPhone5 and the new 747-8.
There are also politics and promises, but mostly the show is about what has already been achieved, such as the X3 long-range speedy chopper from Eurocopter which made its debut Monday, or Embraers newly designed regional planes, which are likely to position the Brazilian company as the worlds number three planemaker, ahead of Bombardier.
On the political side, Louis Gallois, chief executive of EADS, has outlined an exit strategy for his French and German state-backed shareholders that would bring an end to their extremely rigid grip on Europes biggest aircraft maker.
At the start of the Le Bourget extravaganza, near where Charles Lindbergh parked the Spirit of St. Louis after crossing the Atlantic for the first time ever nearly 90 years ago, Gallois said France and Germany could relinquish their 22.5 per cent stakes in the company without leaving it open to a hostile takeover.
In a way, Gallois comments only confirmed the widespread perception that EADS has not achieved more because of the eternal inner struggle between French and German executives, who are usually at each others throats, making for a rigid corporate structure.
Gallois insisted that a rough balance could be maintained between the interests of the two states even if they sold out of the group. He didnt say it in so many words, but the privatization of EADS could well give the conglomerate in which Spain and Great Britain also have states an unbeatable lead in the aeronautics business.
The French CEOs intervention is significant because one of the biggest barriers to an exit by the French and Germans has been the fear that the company was too important to be left vulnerable to acquisitive international rivals from China, Canada, Brazil and others.
Gallois says he believes that corporate laws in the Netherlands, where EADS is incorporated, meant a hostile takeover bid could be rebuffed even if the governments did not retain a so-called golden share in the maker of Airbus passenger jets.
The Franco-German shareholder pact, which guarantees equality between the two partner nations, was implemented when the company was created 11 years ago. In practice, the French-German rivalry has been, according to industry experts, a major distraction for EADS.
The Paris Air Show is a major aspirational event for beat journalists, because not only do you get to witness new and revolutionary new products first-hand, but virtually all CEOs are there ready, willing and able to spill the beans on trends, developments and yes, even gossip on rivals.
For example, several top executives acknowledged that the rigid EADS structure has become an increasing source of frustration to its senior executives, as they seek to expand into the United States, where Boeing retains a stronghold, and in emerging markets.
Daimler, the carmaker, is in talks over reducing the 15 per cent stake that it owns on behalf of the German government. It also acts as proxy manager for another 7.5 per cent stake owned by German banks. Lagardère, the French media group, owns 7.5 per cent of EADS, while the French state owns 15 per cent.
In a shocker, Gallois acknowledged that the existing structure was extremely rigid , adding that it gave the controlling shareholders a feeling of being trapped and always creating the risk of inequalities between different categories of shareholders .
Top EADS executives also believe that Dutch corporate law could be used to safeguard parity between the interests of the Germans and French, although they declined to say how this would work in practice.
One idea that has been floated by some would be to allow the two countries veto rights on the bigger strategic decisions.
Separately, Gallois said that there would be no surprises about the choice of his successor when he steps down in the middle of next year. Tom Enders, the outspoken German head of Airbus, is expected to take over at EADS, while Fabrice Brégier, Enders French chief operating officer, is tipped to take the reins at Airbus.