Dubai Airshow to Pack a Bigger Punch

The global aviation industry is in a tailspin, but you’d never know it from the enthusiastic preparations for next week’s Dubai Air Show.

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Published: Thu 12 Nov 2009, 4:20 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:24 AM

The five-day event at Dubai’s Airport Expo is the biggest aviation and aerospace fest in the Middle East, a region that stands out from most others for its profitable airlines and brimming defense budgets.

At the last Dubai Air Show two years ago, airlines — most of them from this region — went on a splurge, ordering a jaw-dropping $85 billion worth of new aircraft.

Few observers expect to see a repeat performance this time around, due to the global recession, credit shortage and collapse in passenger demand that have gripped the aviation industry since then.

Nevertheless, the Dubai show has become at least as important an event on the global aviation calendar as similar events held regularly in Singapore, Paris and Farnborough, England. This year’s show, including daily airborne displays, is to take place on November 15 to 19.

Among the exhibition’s highlights will be a full-scale mock-up of the newest Airbus jetliner, the A350XWB, and two mock-ups of the Eurocopter EC175, a product of EADS, Airbus’ parent company. Another first for the show will be a model of a supersonic business jet from Aerion of the US

“The big news is we’ve got the new F-22 Raptor,” says Alison Weller, aerospace director for F&E Aerospace, the event’s organiser. The F-22 fighter jet — a joint project of US aerospace companies Lockheed Martin, Boeing Co., and Pratt & Whitney — will be making its flying debut at the show.

So too will the Eurofighter Typhoon, a combat and ground-attack aircraft built by a European consortium of Britain’s BAE Systems, Alenia Aeronautica of Italy and EADS units in Germany and Spain. A US Air Force F-22 and a Typhoon from Britain’s Royal Air Force will join other aircraft performing aeronautics displays at the show.

As proof of the Dubai Air Show’s increasing international prominence, 890 companies have signed up to exhibit at the event — 10 per cent more than the number that participated in 2007. F&E Aerospace is “very close” to renting out all the available exhibition space, including the airport expo’s new 7,000 square-metre “Emirates” hall, Weller said.

“The Middle East market is still growing, and we’re growing with it,” she told Khaleej Times.

Neither the air show nor the Middle East has been immune to global economic turmoil. Many smaller companies have opted not to participate this year, and some others that plan to come have reduced the size of their display booths or are renting fewer hospitality chalets, Weller said.

The aviation industry considered the Paris Air Show held this June as a success, in spite of the challenging economy. This optimism is carrying over to Dubai, with Weller describing the general mood among exhibitors in the final days before the show opens as “upbeat” and “positive.”

Participating companies include industry heavyweights Bell Helicopter of the US, British engine-maker Rolls Royce and Finmeccanica of Italy.

About 150 firms will be participating here for the first time, in a clue to the show’s commercial importance. About 60 per cent of the exhibitors will focus on commercial aviation, with military suppliers comprising the remaining 40 per cent, Weller said.

The International Air Transport Association expects the world’s airlines to lose a combined $11 billion this year, as a result of high fuel prices and sagging demand for air travel. But Middle Eastern carriers have so far managed to fly clear of the crisis, and they continue to rack up profits.

Emirates Airline, Dubai’s flag carrier, last week reported a 165 per cent surge in its first-half earnings to Dh752 million. Emirates has carried on expanding both its fleet and its network, as have Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and regional low-cost carriers such as flydubai and Air Arabia.

“My personal view is that for the GCC in general, this will still be a profitable year for airlines. They’re in much better shape than the global airline business,” said Kareem Murad, the senior transportation analyst at Shuaa Capital.

“We’re seeing interest from different airline businesses in expanding. We’re seeing grounding of aircraft all over the world; we’re not seeing that in this part of the world,” he said.

Any plans by airlines to announce orders for new aircraft at the Dubai show are “under wraps,” Weller said. “We never know” ahead of time, she said, noting that participants in the show have scheduled a total of 36 news conferences next week.

“I don’t think it’s going to be boring,” Murad added.

One encouraging sign for this show is that some of the trade fairs that other industries have staged recently in Dubai have drawn “impressive” crowds of visitors, despite the ailing economy, Murad said.

And these other shows lacked the Dubai Air Show’s thundering entertainment.

Each afternoon of the show, onlookers can expect state-of-the-art aircraft to screech overhead, flying loops and barrel rolls. In addition to watching displays by military aircraft, visitors will be able to enjoy aerobatics teams from France and Italy performing stunts in jet trainers.

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