Major U.S. defense contractors are maintaining a low-key presence at Le Bourget in the wake of budget cuts, and that is just fine with Bill Swanson. The Raytheon CEO says his defense electronics company did not cut back on its staffing this year and is using the show to further its drive to increase export sales. “My competitors aren’t here – and I’m happy,” Swanson said in an interview.

Raytheon sent just under 100 employees to the air show, about the same it took to Paris in 2011. By contrast Boeing brought 11 people this year from its defense sector – including two communicators. Northrop Grumman, a major competitor to Raytheon, also had a scant presence.

But Raytheon’s chalet at the show has been packed with visitors from places such as Oman, Qatar and Japan. “The busiest I have ever been at an air show,” Swanson says. “Tuesday will set every record in Raytheon for meetings in one day.”

Exports now account for 26% of sales at Raytheon, up from 17-18% in the middle of the last decade and the highest of any major U.S. defense contractor. Swanson is aiming to push that figure up to 30%, and says he is using the air show to further that goal. “It really signifies to me the importance of going where your customers are,” he says.

But even at Raytheon, sequestration – the automatic U.S. budget cuts that took effect March 1 – overhangs the atmosphere. “It sucks all the air out of the room,” Swanson laments. “I cannot have a meeting with anybody without having the subject come up. But frankly, there’s nothing I can do about it.”