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Cold War French Aviation Industry

Before World War II, the French aeronautics industry comprised many small aircraft and engine companies. French technicians remained in the forefront of military and civil aviation even though they had never achieved the industrial status of the USA. France had always been rich in genius, fertile in prototypes, but sterile in production runs - until the mid-1950s. But then France announced to the visitors at the Salon de Aeronautique that they were watching prototypes which, at the next Salon, would appear as pre-production aircraft and later would become production aircraft and even achieve export orders. This was, for France's post-war industry, the starting point into the world market.

Just at that time, France had produced a series of brilliant prototypes of all kinds, but chiefly the first genuinely supersonic aircraft in Europe, the first machine supported entirely by jet thrust - which provided the most spectacular demonstration ever seen at the Salon - turbine helicopters and a growing range of modern equipment, particularly new radars. With its remarkable Leduc ramjet, rocket-plus-turbojet Trident, Gerfaut delta and Griffon turboramjet, France explored all the methods then available for achieving Mach 2 performance. In addition, the Sud-Aviation design team produced the first aircraft with its turbojets mounted on the rear fuselage-the famous Caravelle. But just at the time when its technical achievements were leading the world, the industry was also able to set up a real commercial program. The Mystere and Mirage series emerged to give France a Mach 2 intercepter fighter also capable of operating from semi-prepared fields.

The French aerospace industry of the 1960s was divided between two sectors, three large nationalized companies on the one hand and several smaller private companies on the other. Although there have been these two distinct categories-they have indeed existed since pre-war years-the Government has not favored one or the other more than might normally be expected in average commercial competition. There were two absolutely determining factors behind the industry's success. First, France established a series of five-year national military equipment plans, which gave the industry a well understood future and a production and finance plan which allowed fairly stable planning of work. Secondly, both military and civil aircraft were almost always planned with the prospect of export sales in mind.

Having seen off all the competition from state-owned companies, the Dassault company had become the Air force's main supplier. Dassault's presence in the combat aircraft field came about as a result of both the quality of the aircraft on offer and produced, and a government choice. On October 18, 1965, Pierre Messmer, the minister for the Armed services, notified Sud-Aviation's chairman that his company was to continue to specialize in the field of transport aircraft, helicopters and missiles, adding that it would be damaging to national interests for military aircraft design offices to be set up or developed while the work load of the most active companies in this sector was not guaranteed. In 1966, the Armed forces ministry, in a concern for industrial rationalization, wanted to continue to specialize companies. Nord Aviation was to devote itself to ballistic missiles, Sud-Aviation to business concerning civil and military transport aircraft and helicopters, and Dassault was to concentrate on combat aircraft and business aircraft.

From the mid 1960s onwards, the State encouraged a general concentration process in order to promote companies able to rival their international competitors. In the airframes field, two companies were still be business at the time: Société nationale industrielle Aérospatiale (SNIAS) and Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation (AMD-BA). As a result of the government directives of the minister of the Armed forces, Pierre Messmer, they became specialized in 1965: Aérospatiale in civil aviation, helicopters, missiles and satellites, and Dassault-Breguet in combat aircraft and business aviation.

Between the early 197Os and the mid-1990s, government-approved mergers reduced the number of French aircraft and engine companies to three key players: Aerospatiale, France's largest civil aircraft manufacturer; Dassault, France's only military fighter aircraft manufacturer; and the Societe Nationale d'Etude et de Construction de Moteurs d'Aviation-Partenaires (SNECMA), France's largest aircraft engine manufacturer. As of 1994 the French government owned 80 percent of Aerospatiale, 46.7 percent of Dassault (and helds 54.7 percent of the voting rights), and 97 percent of SNECMA. In 1992, Aerospatiale and SNECMA contributed about half of the French aeronautics industry's $19.3 billion in sales, of which about 49 percent were exports. At the end of 1992, Aerospatiale employed about 46,100 persons. Its aeronautics-related activities achieved sales of about $6.7 billion. Exports made up about 76 percent of these sales. At the end of 1992, SNECMA employed about 13,400 persons in aircraft engine activities and achieved sales of about $2.6 billion. Exports made up about 78 percent of these sales.

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Page last modified: 01-05-2013 19:11:58 ZULU