Fast growth in air travel cheers Berlin Air Show

India's rapidly expanding airline industry is typical of the robust markets that cheered European aerospace and defence companies on Tuesday, the first day of the Berlin Air Show.

The show, held every two years, mixes flying displays by lovingly restored vintage planes with hard-sell marketing talk from companies like European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), the parent of Airbus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, her entourage and Airbus chief executive Thomas Enders toured the aircraft and exhibition booths for 90 minutes, accompanied by Indian Defence Minister Kurian Antony.

India is the partner nation this year at the show, which is also known by its German initials, ILA.

"This is a sector which lives by networking," said Merkel, and Antony confirmed how essential sharing is.

"Germany is an important partner for us in aerospace," he told reporters.

Jet Airways, the rapidly expanding Indian airline, took delivery of one of the 15 new A330-200 airliners it has ordered from Airbus in Merkel's presence. "She is one of the world's greatest leaders," said Jet Airways chief executive Naresh Goyal.

Air travel is growing fast in India as incomes rise and travellers avoid slower land transport, a shift in travel behaviour that is being seen in other emerging economies too.

That expansion not only spells more orders for planes, but is also leading to a worldwide shortage of pilots and aviation engineers.

However the industry in Europe admits that the high value of the euro is becoming an export handicap, while environmentalist criticism of air travel is prompting efforts to discover green technologies.

Landings and take-offs at Schoenefeld, a civilian airport which hosts the event every two years, had to be suspended for nearly an hour when a restored Messerschmidt 109 fighter plane dating from World War II crash-landed after a display.

No one was hurt and the plane did not seem to be seriously damaged. It came to rest on grass with its right wingtip resting on the ground, apparently after its right-side undercarriage failed.

The German Me 109, one of 33,000 made, had just completed a flying display for the crowds with a replica of Nazi Germany's Me 262 turbo- jet fighter.

Three giant aircraft including the jumbo A380 from Airbus dominated the show on opening day.

The A380, which has been dogged by manufacturing delays, is the largest passenger plane ever built. Also on view at the show, known by its German initials as the ILA, are the two biggest series- production planes ever made, the An 124 and the C-5 Galaxy.

This ILA has a record 1,127 companies and institutions from the aerospace and defence industry exhibiting.

Organizers said more than 200,000 people were expected at the show by the time it ends on Sunday. During the first three days the general public is excluded and only trade visitors and officials will be admitted.

The Air Show has attracted additional attention amid speculation that a European manned space flight might be possible as early as 2017. Such a project would give a big fillip to the space industry, which mainly depends on government orders.

Established in Frankfurt in 1909, the ILA is today one of the world's oldest aviation trade shows. Since 1992 it has been staged every two years at Schoenefeld Airport, now being rebuilt to become the capital city's sole airport, dpa reported.

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