Dubai Airshow Report: Middle East Show Draws $50 Billion in Orders

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Dubai Air Show 2011 (David McIntosh)
Dubai Air Show 2011 (David McIntosh)
November 28, 2011, 2:15 PM

For most of the past decade at least, the Dubai Air Shows have been impressive if a little predictable in the magnitude of the business trumpeted during the biennial events. The message from the Middle East’s aerospace and defense sectors was essentially, “We’ve arrived and for us the only way is up.”

The first sign that such certainty was shaken came barely a week after the 2009 show, when Dubai finally had to come clean that large parts of its real estate-based economy were figuratively built on sand. A bail-out from Abu Dhabi, its neighbor in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has stabilized Dubai to a degree.

The 24 months running up to the 2011 Dubai show have revealed that the wider Middle East region has not been untouched by the ongoing economic instability in the economies of the West. Nonetheless, the region’s air transport has been able to exploit its geographic proximity to the yet more promising emerging economies of Asia. At the same time, indigenous aerospace industry has continued to develop and the new wave of so-called Arab Spring political upheaval has provided a shifting context for its defense needs.

Starting with the traditional airshow scorecard, Dubai 2011 can certainly be adjudged a success. The November 13 to 17 event closed with an estimated $50 billion worth of orders for aircraft, engines and maintenance contracts announced. Unsurprisingly this fell short of some of the epic order counts of previous years, but it certainly showed that the Middle East’s growth train is still on the rails.

This year’s show was strongly tinged by patriotic fervor marking the 40th anniversary of the UAE’s founding on Dec. 2, 1971. The birthday is being celebrated with the founding of the UAE Air Force’s aerobatic display team. Al-Fursan (Arabic for The Knights) debuted in the daily flying display with a seven-aircraft formation of Aermacchi MB339 jet trainers.

The show opened with a bang as Emirates Airline announced the largest single order ever by dollar value for Boeing commercial airplanes. The $26 billion deal, which included firm orders for fifty 777-300ERs and options for another 20, raised the Seattle airframer’s yearly order total for the twinjet to 182, making 2011 the best-selling year ever for the 777 program, eclipsing the previous record of 154 set in 2005. In a separate transaction, DAE Capital reported an agreement to lease nine 777 freighters–scheduled to begin deliveries next year–to Emirates, while Qatar Airways ordered a pair of 777 freighters of its own in an agreement valued at $560 million.

Perhaps it was inspired by the long-anticipated Middle Eastern debut of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, but on the second day of the show Oman Air inked a long-awaited deal for six of the long-range 787-8s worth approximately $1.2 billion, thus finalizing an agreement with Kuwaiti leasing group Alafco, which transferred existing orders to the Omani flag carrier. The new widebody twins will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000s in a contract that was announced concurrently.

Airbus also boosted its balance sheet when Alafco concluded a purchase of 50 A320neos worth an estimated $4.6 billion. The deal included options on another 30 of the re-engined narrowbodies. Airbus expects those options to be converted by year-end, potentially raising the total value of the order to more than $7 billion. Qatar Airways also ordered 50 A320neos and signed a deal for five A380 superjumbos plus options for an additional three worth up to $3 billion. U.S. lessor Aviation Capital Group tacked on another $2.7 billion order for 30 A320neos, bringing Airbus’ show tally to around $15 billion in sales.

Bombardier signed a deal with Egypt-based Petroleum Air Services for one CRJ900 NextGen regional jet, with an option for another. Once delivered, the $45 million aircraft will be the first of the CRJ Series to operate in Egypt.

The Canadian airframer also chose the Dubai Air Show for the debut of the flight-deck simulator for its C Series single-aisle jetliner. Turkish low-fare carrier Atlasjet signed a letter of intent for 15 of the CS300 version. With options, the deal could be worth $1.18 billion.

In the turboprop segment, European airframer ATR logged an order for three ATR 42-600s from Russia’s NordStar Air, adding to its previous commitment for two of the twin turboprops and options for an additional pair. This latest contract boosted ATR’s orders for the year to 148. The manufacturer also announced that it will cease production of the 72-500 next year, with the successor 72-600 taking its place.

Making its international airshow debut was Avic’s MA600 turboprop twin. The Chinese manufacturer claims orders for 16 copies of the 50/60-seater, which is expected to enter revenue service early next year.

Business Aircraft Orders Roll In

On the business aircraft side, international charter provider VistaJet–which predicted the Middle East will soon account for 15 percent of its revenues–aimed to boost its commitment to the region with a $110 million order for a pair of Bombardier Challenger 850s and a Global 5000.

Also at the show Comlux Aviation placed the first order for the ACJ321, Airbus’s latest addition to its bizliner fleet.

In rotorcraft news, Eurocopter announced the sale of an EC130B4 light single in corporate configuration to Pakistan’s Princely Jets, along with spares and services.

UAE-based industry newcomer Quest Helicopters took advantage of the spotlight at its local venue to launch its light twin-tandem rotor aircraft at the show. Another manufacturer showing off its initial products was Sudanese airframer Safat, which demonstrated its Safat-02 light training helicopter and Safat-03 basic fixed-wing trainer.

Bell-Boeing brought its V-22 Osprey tiltrotor to Dubai. The aircraft has already seen active duty in the Middle East, but this marks the first time it was available for examination by potential customers. Other Bell products making their Dubai debut included the single-engine 407AH–the company’s first commercially qualified armed helicopter–and the 429 light twin, developed with Korean Aerospace Industries.

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