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Back to the Future: Seeing the Paris Air Show Through Fresh Eyes

July 08, 2019 | by Yari Bovalino
Looking back now from their desks at Avio Aero in Rivalta di Torino, Italy, it all seems like a sweet, if highly technical, dream. The jets, engines, airframes, helicopters, cargo planes, meetings, tours, conversations and deals—everything that Andrea Piazza and Stefano Mirone witnessed at the Paris Air Show may have packed up and flown home, but what remains is an indelible memory the two engineers will not soon forget.

Piazza and Mirone are just two of the 100 lucky GE Aviation employees from all over the world selected to celebrate the company's 100-year anniversary with a very special experience—in this case, a whirlwind tour of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport. Paris is the main event of the year for the global aviation and aerospace industry. Over the course of one week in June, the world's leading companies showcase new military and civil aeronautical products, along with the latest technologies, and announce important new contracts.

“It’s my very first visit to an air show and the organization was perfect,” said Piazza. “I couldn't have ever imagined the extent and way GE Aviation participated, and now I clearly see how important the show is—not only for exhibiting new products and technologies, but also as a meeting point for all the companies in the industry in one place for one week.”

For engineers focused on the design and development of transmissions, having the chance to attend the Paris Air Show was hugely enriching. Mirone described his experience with three simple adjectives: strategic, decisive and memorable. On the one hand, it was an opportunity for him to enjoy, as a spectator, what he designs. On the other hand, it meant escaping from the normal working day routine and feeling part of something bigger.

Andrea Piazza and Stefano Mirone with a group of Italian fire department pilots outside the Leonardo helicopter exhibit at the Paris Air Show in June.

“We understand how the fruit of our daily work represents the product that our managers ultimately sell to the customer as the most innovative asset on the market,” Mirone said. “That's why innovation is the mission you strive hard for every day.”

For Piazza, too, it was important to appreciate the company as a whole: its ability to build the product with high quality at competitive costs, to defend its intellectual property, to promote its development, to sell it and maintain it over the long haul. “Even the best engineering system, however deserving, could not succeed without perfect adherence to these goals,” he said.

The key moments of the experience offered by GE Aviation included opportunities for comparison with the latest innovations and major players in the sector. “The high level of innovation in the products at the air show made me understand how technology is proceeding at a very high rate in this industry, much faster than I thought,” said Mirone. “During the events, I reflected on the unbridled competition within our industry. Innovation is shared between the various industry leaders, who proceed at very high speeds, even though they still compete with each other. [For a company] to maintain these rhythms and establish itself on the market as a leader, it is necessary to keep up with the development of new technology and establish a tight interaction between the business functions. Continuous alignment with the objectives inside the company is an invaluable element.”

Piazza and Mirone spent their time at Le Bourget visiting the chalets of major aircraft and helicopter manufacturers and attending meetings. During one session at the Leonardo exhibition area, guest pilots from the Italian Fire Department invited the two engineers aboard an AW189 helicopter and gave them a rundown of the incredible maneuvering techniques employed in flight. They also got an in-depth look at some of the latest cabin design technology during a presentation from Textron and were able to experience what it’s like to fly the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Airbus A400M and the RACER with the aid of virtual reality.

Among all the exciting new products they viewed, the unveiling of the GE9X engine was undoubtedly the most emotional moment. “Although I didn't work on the program, I'd heard about it from the very outset,” said Mirone. “Seeing such a large number of spectators wait with enthusiasm for it to be shown publicly for the first time made me realize how the hard work of engineers has really paid off.”

Andrea Piazza (left) and Stefano Mirone standing in front of the GE9X at the Paris Air Show.

Even though the air show generates a fairly intense competitive atmosphere, Mirone and Piazza appreciated the modern, open and proactive corporate culture that distinguish GE Aviation and Avio Aero. Piazza particularly noted the comments GE Aviation President and CEO David Joyce made at the unveiling of the GE9X, the world’s largest commercial jet engine. “During the GE9X presentation, while not hiding the great pride in the results achieved, he spoke in an extremely transparent manner of the complications encountered and of useful tools employed to overcome the many challenges,” Piazza said.

Working in aviation by definition means having to keep an eye on the future. For his part, Mirone sees big change coming to the industry over the next 100 years.

“Even today, global players are struggling to introduce new technologies such as hybrid electric, drones and virtual reality,” he said. “It is very likely that not only will the show be completely turned upside-down by new technologies but also the work of the engineer may undergo profound changes as the components involved in the design will be potentially very different. I really hope that, in the future, young engineers will continue to embrace this career with excitement and passion.”

Piazza was particularly impressed by a statement a senior Textron executive made regarding the needs of the aircraft operator. From the customer’s perspective, “new products are welcome but only make sense if they really offer much more than those already on the market,” he recalled. “It sounds trivial, but the frankness with which we talked has been exemplary for understanding that each new product must be much more interesting and pioneering than the previous ones in terms of power, cost, time between overhauls and much more.”

Which is precisely what GE Aviation has strived to achieve for all of its 100 years in business. It’s important to be proud of the company’s legacy, of course, but we wouldn’t be able to celebrate that legacy if we weren’t keeping our vision trained relentlessly on what comes next.

“The difference between GE Aviation and other 100-year-old companies,” said Piazza, “lies in the fact that a company must remain at the top of the industry to be able to celebrate this kind of anniversary without having to look over its shoulder and seek greatness in its past.”

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.