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Global Hawk maker Northrop to skip Paris air show

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Northrop Grumman Corp , maker of the Global Hawk unmanned plane, said on Wednesday it would not participate in the 2013 international air show in Paris to save money, but could beef up its presence at air shows in Australia and the Middle East.

Northrop Grumman and other companies that it has acquired have participated in the Paris air show for many decades, said Northrop spokesman Randy Belote.

One of those companies built the "Spirit of St. Louis," the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew to Paris for the first non-stop transatlantic flight in May 1927. The plane now hangs in Washington's National Air and Space Museum.

"In full alignment with its affordability and cost reduction goals, Northrop Grumman will not be exhibiting or offering a business center at the 2013 Paris Air Show," Belote told Reuters when asked about the company's plans.

Northrop's move is part of its overall drive to reduce costs as the U.S. defense industry girds for tighter budgets after a decade of sharp growth.

Northrop, one of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors, also skipped the Farnborough international air show outside London last year, calling the move part of its drive to cut costs and prepare for leaner times in the global defense market.

Weapons makers generally spend around $4 to $5 million to participate in a big air show, exhibiting aircraft and flying in top executives to wine and dine prospective clients.

Belote said the company remained committed to France and its other global customers, but was focusing its "international business development activities and resources in areas that better support its customers' needs."

Northrop did plan to participate in the Australian International Air Show that begins in late February, and the Dubai air show in November, and might even expand its presence at those events, he said.

"We are considering enhancing our participation level in shows in other regions, including Australia and the Middle East," Belote said.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said Northrop's decision to skip the Paris air show reflected the fact that the company no longer builds major weapons platforms like the B-2 bomber, and he did not expect other big U.S. firms to follow its lead.

"Northrop is extremely determined to get a low cost profile, but anyone who is in the platform business has to get serious about increasing exports, and major air shows are still a big part of that," he said.

Paris and London alternate hosting a huge air show each year, an event billed as the largest of the international events of this type. This year's show at the Le Bourget airport outside Paris, which is scheduled for mid-June, will be the 50th held there.

Northrop had a large presence at the Paris air show in 2011, one of 2,113 exhibitors from 45 countries, according to the air show's website.

Lockheed Martin Corp has also scaled back its spending on air shows in recent years, reducing the number of executives it sends and relying more on local employees. But the No. 1 Pentagon supplier still plans to participate in the Paris show this year, said spokeswoman Jennifer Whitlow.

"We continue to look for ways to reduce our costs, but we do think the air show is an important opportunity to talk with our customers about their national security needs," she said.

(This story has been refiled to replace "cuts our costs" with "reduce our costs" in last paragraph)

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Nick Zieminski and Tim Dobbyn)

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