Dubai show to be a test of commitment to region

 - November 26, 2007, 7:56 AM

Two years after 9/11, Dubai’s biennial air show will declare itself to be firmly back to business as usual when it opens next month (December 7 to 11) in the United Arab Emirates. Last time, the event convincingly put on a brave face in the wake of 9/11 and the U.S.-led war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan (just 500 miles north). This time, the Middle East airshow will be staged against a backdrop of grave unrest in post-war Iraq and ever-worsening tension between Israel and its neighbors.

Nonetheless, at press time organizers of the 2003 show–staged about a month later than normal due to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan– were predicting that it would be back to the scale of the 1999 event. In 2001, about 50 exhibitors–10 percent of the 1999 total of 500 companies–pulled out of the show in response to world tension and the air-transport-industry crisis. The exhibitor list this year is drawn from 33 different countries and features 10 national pavilions, including, for the first time, those representing the industries of the Ukraine and Jordan.

The fact is that the Dubai Air Show will be viewed as an important bellwether of the aerospace and defense industries’ commitment to the Middle East marketplace. Worldwide civil aviation may still be resolutely in the doldrums, but the Middle East’s air-transport sector is still expected to show annual growth of around 4.2 percent and economic growth in the region is forecast to outdo the world average by a factor of two for the next couple of decades. According to the International Air Transport Association, the Middle East region this year has shown the highest rate of growth in the world.

The potential for defense sales at the show can only be bolstered by the heightened tensions in the region, and the event will once again draw high-level military delegations from throughout the Arab world and neighboring states, including those, such as Iran and Syria, that continue to be in the glare of adverse attention from the U.S. government. Defense manufacturers from those states that opposed the recent Iraq war (most notably France, Germany and Russia) will now be looking to exploit this political stance. Similarly, the behemoths of the U.S. defense sector will be seeking to hold and extend ground in this key strategic marketplace for military hardware.

Organizers have predicted that U.S. firms–and the Bush Administration–will be looking to make a strong showing in Dubai. The Americans were prominent among the absentees from the 2001 show–for very understandable reasons. Having had a markedly quiet Paris Air Show in June–for both political and business reasons–the U.S. is expected to demonstrate that it is back on the international airshow circuit in full force.

Boeing, in particular, is under pressure to peg back both the sales and product development gaps that rival Airbus appears to be establishing. The U.S. airframer is understood to be still some months away from launching its new Dreamliner (7E7) jetliner, although this could be in play at next February’s Asian Aerospace event in Singapore.

Deep-pocketed local flag carrier Emirates might be in a position to extend some of its largesse to Boeing by announcing fresh orders at the upcoming Dubai show. The airline, which already confirmed substantial sales for Airbus’ A380 super-large transport at June’s Paris show, might now also confirm further powerplant selections for this platform. At the Dubai 2001 event, Emirates provided the beleaguered air-transport industry with an adrenaline fix by conferring some $15 billion worth of aircraft orders on Airbus and Boeing.

The flying and static display rosters for Dubai 2003 had yet to be posted at press time. However, organizers insisted that both will be packed with aircraft from all walks of life.

With the Middle East offering an abundant crop of wealthy individuals, business aviation is once again set to enjoy a high profile at the Dubai show. Airbus and Boeing are both likely to show their respective bizliners–respectively the ACJ and BBJ. They will be joined by Gulfstream–an absentee in 2001–Bombardier, Dassault, Cessna, Raytheon, Embraer and Pilatus. Most of these manufacturers made significant product development announcements at last month’s NBAA Convention and they can be expected to tout their expanded product lines again in Dubai.

There should also be tangible evidence of the Middle East’s broadening business-aviation base with the anticipated launch of a new executive enclave at Dubai International Airport. This is being constructed by the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation and its major tenants are understood to include business aviation services groups ExecuJet and Jet Aviation.

Debuting at the Dubai show will be the new Abu Dhabi-based executive/VIP charter operator Royal Jet, which operates a BBJ and a pair of Gulfstream 300s. In partnership with Emirates and Canadian simulator manufacturer CAE, Gulfstream is establishing a flight-training center for its aircraft in Dubai.

Other important business aviation players exhibiting at the show include engine and avionics suppliers Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, Thales, Thrane & Thrane, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Rolls-Royce. The service and support sector will be represented by the following firms: Air Data (flight-management software); Baseops, Jeppesen, Universal Weather & Aviation and Hadid International (all flight planning providers); Bahrain Executive Air Services (charter); fractional-ownership provider NetJets Middle East (based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia); completions, maintenance and refurbishment specialists Lufthansa Technik and Air France Industries; and executive charter and FBO group TAG Aviation. Even NBAA will have a booth at the show as it extends its evangelistic message for business aviation around the globe.

To date, civil rotorcraft manufacturers booked to exhibit in Dubai are AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter Textron, Eurocopter (through its parent company European Aeronautics Defence & Space), Kazan of Russia and Sikorsky.

At the Arab Air Carriers Organization’s annual general meeting held last month in Muscat, Oman, the prospect of regional airline growth in the Middle East appeared to be edging closer to realization, with several carriers signaling their intent to add new-generation regional jets to their fleets. Manufacturers Bombardier and Embraer appear to be in the driving seats for these opportunities, and both are set to exhibit in force at the Dubai show.

Twin-turboprop maker Avions de Transport Regional will also be represented in Dubai through its parent companies EADS and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica. Seeking to offer Middle Eastern operators cheaper alternatives to these Western offerings, Russia’s Tupolev is expected to showcase its Tu-334, and Sukhoi will be arguing that they should wait until its new Russian Regional Jet is available in 2007. From the Ukraine, Antonov will likely present its An-140 twin turboprop.

More information about the Dubai 2003 show can be found via the Internet at