Sans Boeing, aircraft makers strike gold at Dubai Air Show

 - January 30, 2007, 6:15 AM

Major orders for airliners and their engines once again raised the profile of the biennial Dubai Air Show, held December 7 to 11. The bulk of the $6 billion sales announced during the event were accounted for by a $1.5 billion order by Emirates Airline for 101 Engine Alliance GP7200 turbofans to power 23 of its Airbus A380s. Factoring in spares and overhauls, the value of the contract to Engine Alliance partners General Electric and Pratt & Whitney rises to $3 billion.

Qatar Airways confirmed firm orders for two previously optioned A380s and upgraded “commitments” for another two into options. At the same time it placed an order for two A340-600s and optioned eight more, sending Airbus home to Europe with a $3 billion deal.

With 550 exhibitors showing their wares this year, the event had clearly bounced back from the 10-percent dip in bookings suffered at Dubai 2001 (450 exhibitors), which had been staged barely seven weeks after 9/11. However, visitor tallies were down almost 17 percent for the professionals-only Dubai 2003 show, with 25,000 passing through the gates (see box). The value of business announced at the 2001 show was nearly $16 billion, although that figure was almost exclusively accounted for by a massive Emirates order for both Airbus and Boeing products.

The Emirates booth featured an imposing almost-full-scale mockup of the double-decked A380. Debuting in the Dubai static and flying displays were rival long-range transports, the A340-600 and the Boeing 777-300ER.

Several new startup carriers (some of them applying a low-cost model) are now emerging in the Middle East to exploit market niches not addressed by the dominant majors such as Emirates. However, there is still little sign of regional airline growth in that part of the world–or at least as the concept is understood in the West (i.e. largely using aircraft with fewer than 120 seats).

Nonetheless, Brazil’s Embraer brought its soon-to-be-certified 70-seat 170 regional jet to Dubai as part of a Middle East sales tour. The only other purpose-built regional airliners on display were the Chinese CATIC MA60 and Harbin Y-12E twin turboprops and the Ukrainian Antonov An-140 (made by the Kharkov manufacturing plant). Not physically present, but being actively discussed in the wings, was the proposed Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) to be developed by the new civil aircraft division of the Sukhoi design bureau in partnership with engine team Snecma/Saturn and–to a lesser extent–Boeing.

Business aviation enjoyed a high profile at Dubai 2003, with manufacturers seemingly now convinced that the Middle East is at last seeing real evidence of market expansion beyond the traditional confines of the region’s royal families. Collectively, this industry segment benefited by logging about $300 million in new aircraft orders during the show.

Qatar Airways signed a $180 million deal with Bombardier for four ultra-long-range Global Express jets. The first two aircraft are to be delivered to the airline, which has its own VIP/head-of-state division, next summer and the other two are on option. The Qatari Globals will have 13 passenger seats in a three-compartment cabin.

The Canadian airframer also announced a deal under which it will pick up the first 12 months of management costs for any new Learjet 40, 45 and 45XR placed under a management contract with its local distributor, ExecuJet Middle East. The purpose of the special offer is to encourage newcomers to business aviation to try the concept without having to set up their own flight departments. With about $12,000 per month in management fees charged to Bombardier, the customer will shoulder only fuel and some direct operating costs.

During the show, Bombardier was also on the verge of agreeing on terms with Bahrain Executive Air Services (Bexair) for the sale of a new Challenger 604. The charter operator already operates one 604, along with a Cessna Citation Bravo and an Excel. It is also due to take delivery of a Challenger 601 this month.

Bombardier’s Dubai 2003 display roster featured the new Challenger 300 and Learjet 45XR, both of which made their debuts in the Middle East. Also present were a Global Express, Challenger 604 and Learjet 60. On the eve of the show, the manufacturer broke ground on the new maintenance facility it is building with local partner ExecuJet Middle East as part of the new business aviation enclave at Dubai International Airport.

Gulfstream Aerospace received an order for three of its large-cabin G300s from Saudi Arabian executive charter operator National Air Services (NAS). The $75 million deal is being financed through Bahrain-based Arab Banking, with the loan being guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

NAS, the operating partner for the NetJets Middle East fractional-ownership program, also launched its new Al-Khalaya VIP shuttle service at the Dubai show. This will start in four to five months, and will use a pair of 737s or A319s–the final choice depending largely on which of the manufacturers can deliver the required aircraft in time. Separately, the Riyadh-based operator ordered a pair of Hawker 800XPs.

The Gulfstream 550 exhibited in Dubai set a speed record for a nonstop flight from Savannah, Ga., to Dubai, completing the 6,816-nm trip in 13 hours 47 minutes at an average speed of just under 475 knots. Also on show were a G200 and G400, in addition to an NAS GIV-SP and one of two G300s operated by Abu Dhabi-based Royal Jet.

With a display that also featured its Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), Royal Jet made a significant contribution to the strong business aviation presence at Dubai 2003. During the show, Royal Jet signed a deal with ExxonMobil Aviation for its new FBO at Abu Dhabi International Airport to become the Middle East’s first Avitat facility.

Royal Jet also announced that it has installed Remote Diagnostics Technology’s Tempus 2000 in-flight health-monitoring system in all three of its aircraft. About 40 percent of the operator’s charter work is for medical emergency flights, and its crews can now use the equipment to work with the MedAire MedLink network of medical emergency-response teams.

No fewer than three Boeing Business Jets graced Dubai 2003, including the larger BBJ2, which was making its show debut thanks to UK executive charter operator Multiflight. The example on display featured an ultra-spacious 19-seat cabin with two lounges, a dining room and a private double-bedroom. Boeing signed an agreement for Saudi Arabian engineering and maintenance group Alsalam Aircraft as the first service and warranty repair center for the BBJ in the Middle East.

But the BBJ did not go unchallenged in Dubai. Airbus was able to display the A319-derived Airbus Corporate Jetliner courtesy of Qatar Airways, which operates several ACJs for head-of-state purposes, as well as charter use.

Offering the Arab states an alternative to North American-built business aircraft were both France’s Dassault Aviation and Embraer of Brazil. Dassault displayed the latest Falcon 900EX and 2000EX models, as well as presenting a demonstrator of its EASy flight deck developed for both of these types, as well as for the new Falcon 7X. Embraer had a pair of its Legacy executive aircraft (derived from the ERJ-135 regional jet)–two of which have so far been sold to Kuwait, along with one for a Saudi Arabian customer.

Conscious of the substantial Middle Eastern demand for heavier-iron business jets, Stork Aerospace of the Netherlands used Dubai 2003 as the platform to launch its proposed new executive version of the out-of-production Fokker 100 airliner. The F100EJ is to be offered, primarily, as a replacement for older VIP transports that cannot cost effectively comply with Stage 3 noise requirements, namely 727s, older 737s, BAC 1-11s, Fokker F28s, Douglas DC-9s and an assortment of Russian types.
Stork, which bought the remnants of bankrupt Dutch airframer Fokker, hopes to have the F100EJ certified by the end of this year. Through its Fokker Services division, it will offer various underfloor auxiliary fuel-tank options to provide range of up to 3,250 nm carrying 10 passengers. The business aircraft derivative is part of Stork’s wider plan to breathe new life into the F100 fleet by offering various upgraded and remarketed versions under the brand name Future 100.

The Maverick microjet program resurfaced at the Dubai show under the banner of Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing (TAM) from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Offering significantly reduced production costs, TAM is working under contract from Maverick developer Seattle, Wash.-based Ascend Air and now has worldwide distribution rights for the aircraft.

At this year’s Dubai show, helicopter manufacturers had their own pavilion for the first time. This was dominated by a cabin mockup of a VIP-outfitted Sikorsky S-92. Close by was the Anglo-Italian joint venture AgustaWestland, which is offering the US-101 version of its EH-101 large transport as an alternative to the S-92 in the contest to replace the U.S. President’s S-61 helicopters. Eurocopter exhibited a full-scale mockup of its new EC 365 twin.

Dubai Ruler Orders Show To Grow

Dubai rulers–blessed with great wealth and largely unencumbered by democratic pressures–are famous for thinking big when it comes to developing the most advanced and diverse of the seven states comprising the United Arab Emirates (UAE). So it was not altogether surprising when His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defense Minister, summarily declared that the biennial Dubai Air Show will double in size by the time it is staged again from November 20 to 24, 2005.

With some 550 exhibitors, Dubai 2003 was about 10 percent larger than the 1999 event and just over 20 percent larger than the 2001 show, which suffered from cancellations in the wake of 9/11. So is there really scope for doubling the size of the event in the space of just two years?

HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of Dubai’s Department of Civil Aviation and chairman of the Emirates Group, told AIN that the growth of the show over the past decade has demonstrated that it can realistically achieve Sheikh Mohammed’s ambitious goal. Sheikh Ahmed emphasized the Dubai show’s policy of strictly restricting entry to trade visitors only as being a key reason for its popularity with exhibitors. Ultimately, he argued, it is the check-signing power of show visitors that to exhibitors matters more than overall numbers passing through the gates.

Dubai’s Airport Expo facility is widely regarded as being the most user-friendly site on the international airshow circuit. The challenge for organizers will now be whether they can maintain this reputation as the show prepares to grow by leaps and bounds.