France pledges €15 bil of aid to resuscitate aviation sector

PARIS: The French government will provide €15 billion to support the country’s aviation industry, which has been hammered by travel restrictions imposed to blunt the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday.

“We are declaring a state of emergency to save our aeronautics industry so that it can be more competitive,” Le Maire said at a press conference in Paris.

“If we hadn’t intervened right away, a third of the jobs in the sector would have disappeared… that’s around 100,000 of the 300,000 direct and indirect jobs in the sector,” he added.

The southwestern French city of Toulouse is home to the headquarters of pan-European aircraft maker Airbus, which for decades has supported hundreds of suppliers and service providers in the region.

But orders have dried up as airlines worldwide warn they are facing catastrophe as the prospects for travel remain highly uncertain as the Covid-19 crisis takes its toll.

The government has already announced that Air France-KLM, which posted a €1.8 billion loss in the first quarter, will get €7 billion in loans either from, or backed by the state.

That money will allow it to go through with a purchase of 60 Airbus A220 planes and 38 long-haul A350 jets.

The French state and Airbus, as well as Dassault Aviation, Thales and Safran, will contribute €200 million each to a fund for small- and mid-size firms, in particular to help them invest in carbon-reduction technologies.

The plan also includes €1.5 billion to spur research on a future “carbon neutral plane” over the next three years, with a goal of having the plane operation by 2035, Le Maire said.

Defence Minister Florence Parly, who attended the press conference alongside Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne, said €600 million of planned military orders would be accelerated, including the purchase of three Airbus A330s that will be converted to refuelling planes, and eight Caracal troop transport helicopters.

The military will also double its orders reserved for small- and mid-size firms, to some €100 million, to develop light surveillance planes and drones, “ensuring 1,300 jobs for the next three years,” Parly said.

The support for the aviation sector comes after French President Emmanuel Macron promised €8 billion for the auto sector, with a focus on developing the electric vehicle market.