Show Report: Dubai

 - May 23, 2008, 6:07 AM

The Dubai Air Show, held November 4 to 8, demonstrated an abundance of business-as-usual spirit when it opened its doors in the face of a worldwide security crisis and the intensifying war in Afghanistan just 500 mi away to the northeast. On the show’s opening day, flag carrier Emirates Airlines showed even more resolve when it defied the global air transport downturn by committing to no less than $15 billion worth of aircraft orders with both Airbus and Boeing.

In the aftermath of September 11, Dubai’s leaders had steadfastly refused to contemplate the postponement of this or any other major public event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Publicly the majority of Western exhibitors maintained their presence at the show, despite grave private concerns of executives about personal safety and the need to cut costs in a drastically downgraded market.

After weeks of trepidation in the buildup to Dubai 2001 (the biennial event’s seventh staging), the exhibitor count was reduced by only  10 percent from 500 to 450 companies. Opening-day trade visitor attendance clearly exceeded the expectations of many pessimists, although it did noticeably tail off over the following three days.

The show’s final tally showed 30,000 visitors from 84 countries, compared with almost exactly the same number drawn from 90 nations at the previous event in November 1999. According to organizers, 150 official delegations from 52 countries came to Dubai 2001–80 of which represented civil aviation and 70 from the military sector.

Many Western attendees had privately predicted a very low-key event, with only token participation by many major manufacturers. Subsequently, a good number of executives told AIN that the show had proved to be more substantial than they had expected.

Emirates Airlines had always been expected to grace the show with an order announcement. The news it broke barely an hour after the event had been officially opened by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was nothing short of sensational.

What the Dubai-based operator unveiled were long-term plans to invest up to $15 billion in new aircraft over the next nine years. It is set to buy as many as 68 widebody airliners, including more than 20 of Airbus’ new 555- to 656-seat A380 super-large transports.

The new deals are part of an ambitious growth strategy that will see the Emirates fleet tripled in size to around 100 aircraft by the end of this decade. The current crisis of confidence in the international tourism industry has not dented Dubai’s goal of attracting 15 million visitors annually by 2010.

At the show, Emirates signed firm orders for 22 Airbus A380-800s (including two -800F freighters) and three A330-200s, in addition to letters of intent (LOIs) covering eight long-range A340-600s. Boeing also benefited from the carrier’s shopping bonanza when it received LOIs for twenty-five 777-200/300s. The value of the firm orders placed in Dubai was $7.4 billion, and an additional $7.6 billion worth of LOIs.

The flag carrier is scheduled to receive four A380s in both 2006 and 2007, eight in the following year and the final half dozen in 2009. The new A330s will be delivered from 2003, while the A340-600s are slated to arrive starting in 2005. The 777-200/300s should enter service between 2004 and 2010. On the Dubai 2001 static display line, a 777-200 twinjet faced off against the A340-600, which was making its debut in the Middle East.

Before September 11, the Middle East had been identified as a region as yet untouched by the existing economic downturn in other parts of the world. The major new Emirates airliner orders would seem to confirm this argument, as did a new Boeing market forecast released at the show that predicted a requirement in the region for 651 new jetliners worth $63 billion over the next 20 years.

Bizav Stands Out

Business aviation enjoyed a high profile at Dubai 2001. Several executive aircraft manufacturers and operators confirmed that the marked upswing in post-September 11 inquiries experienced in Europe and North America has also been seen among Arab companies and wealthy individuals.

Embraer used the Dubai show as the stage for the world debut of its new Legacy business jet–derived from the company’s ERJ-135 regional jet. The aircraft on static display featured an interior provided by U.S. completions house Nordam.

The Brazilian airframer announced the appointment of Swift Aviation as the exclusive, factory-authorized distributor for the new model in the Middle East. Its sales territory spans Bahrain (where Swift is based in the region), Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Legacy is now undergoing final flight testing and certification, with three aircraft engaged in the approval process–one of which had made the trip to Dubai for the show. Swift Aviation is now making plans to take the model on a sales demonstration tour of the Middle East.

The new large-cabin bizjet will provide range of 3,220 nm and a long-range cruise speed of 425 kt/Mach 0.80. Its cabin interior is 39 ft long. The $19.5 million Legacy is being offered as an alternative to more costly (but also somewhat larger and higher performance) models such as the Gulfstream GIV-SP that retail for about $32 million.

On the second day of Dubai 2001, Bombardier was able to announce initial orders for its just-launched Global 5000. The $33 million super-large model had been unveiled at the Canadian group’s Montreal headquarters just a week before the show as a direct rival to the Gulfstream IV-SP and Dassault Falcon 900EX, filling a gap between Bombardier’s Challenger 604 and Global Express.

Bombardier Middle East distributor TAG Aeronautics signed a contract for five Global 5000s. TAG represents the manufacturer in 22 countries in the region and has delivered more than 70 of its aircraft over the past 15 years.

South Africa-based ExecuJet Aviation ordered two more of the new jets, with managing director Niall Olver signing the contract at Dubai 2001. During the show, the company’s Dubai-based Middle East operation also took delivery of the first Learjet 60 available for charter in the region.

In addition to the Learjet 60, Bombardier also had a Challenger 604, Learjet 45 and Global Express on static display. Two 604s were recently delivered to Jordan to serve as government transports.

According to Shawn Vick, senior v-p of international sales for Bombardier Business Aircraft, the Global 5000 will offer nonstop range out of Dubai to all major European cities and most of Africa. With its Mach 0.88 cruise speed, it will be able to fly from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London in 6 hr 20 min.

Bombardier also announced plans for a new service center in Dubai, to be developed through a joint venture with ExecuJet and local holding company Alpha 55. The new facility is due to open next year, providing technical support for the full Bombardier business aircraft family, as well as aircraft charter and management services.

The 28,000-sq-ft building at Dubai International Airport will have two maintenance bays with space to simultaneously house two Global Expresses and a pair of Challengers. More than 50 people will work at the facility.

In a further bid to strengthen its presence in the region, Bombardier has appointed Mike Fahey as regional v-p of sales for Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He will operate out of a new office in Dubai.

The heavy-metal end of the business aviation market was amply represented at Dubai 2001 by both a pair of Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) and the rival Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ).

On the static display line was one locally based BBJ operated by Dubai’s Amiri Flight head-of-state operation, and a privately owned model featuring an exquisitely lavish interior developed by Orbit Aviation of Las Vegas. The ACJ on display was one of two operated by Qatar Airways (see sidebar, this page).

During the show, Boeing reported that it has now logged orders and “commitments” for 83 BBJs, including its own pair of corporate bizliners, government-owned models and a number belonging to fractional ownership programs. Around 40 BBJs are now in service, up from 17 a year ago.

For Dassault, Dubai 2001 provided the first public market platform for its plans for the new Falcon 7X. The four-crew, eight-passenger aircraft will offer an intercontinental IFR range of 5,700 nm (see story on page one). At the show, Dassault displayed a Falcon 900EX and 2000.

Fractionals Heat Up in Middle East

The NetJets Middle East (NJME) fractional-ownership program, which includes Falcon 2000s, GIV-SPs and Hawker 800XPs in its current 10-strong fleet, announced plans to open its own maintenance base at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, within two years. The $5 million facility will be approved by the FAA and JAA.

NJME president and CEO Mohammed Al Zeer said the operator had decided to invest in its own maintenance capability after failing to find any acceptable third-party service providers in the region. The Riyadh location was selected because of the engineering capability available in the nearby Al Salam Aircraft Co., which specializes in airliner and military airplane overhauls and modifications.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia-based NJME was launched at the 1999 Dubai Air Show as a joint venture between U.S. fractional-ownership pioneer Executive Jet and Saudi operator National Air Service (in which flag carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines is a shareholder). Al Zeer reported that this year the company has already exceeded its goal of selling 30 aircraft shares, and NJME is expected to add six more aircraft to its fleet next year.

During the first six months of this year, the NJME fleet flew 2,300 hr, and some 60 percent of these flights were within the Middle East. In addition to Saudi Arabia, the program has also drawn its customers from Gulf states such as the UAE, and Egypt. Al Zeer reported a 20-percent increase in inquiries since September 11.

NJME also announced a new “all-hours option” for customers who need to make frequent, short-duration trips of 24- to 48-hr within the Middle East or three to four days in Europe. The program is also now offering lease and finance terms to the Middle East market. However, at press time no further details of these options or the core program were available.

Cessna was represented at Dubai 2001 by Saudi Arabian distributor Wallan Aviation, which exhibited a Citation Excel and a CJ2, as well as a pair of Caravan single-turboprop floatplanes. A Citation X was also on display, courtesy of new operator Bahrain Executive Air Services. The Caravans are set to be used for a new shuttle service linking Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Italy’s Piaggio Aero Industries brought its P.180 Avanti and was actively courting prospective local partners to market the twin-turboprop pusher in the region. The company also signaled its intention to press ahead with several improvements to the
Avanti, including a new avionics suite and cabin interior.

The Pilatus PC-12 turboprop single also made the trip down to Dubai. The Swiss manufacturer has yet to achieve a sale for the multi-role transport in the Middle East or Asia, but is now pursuing several prospects in the region.

The new Cirrus SR22 piston single was a Dubai debutante with the backing of the U.S. manufacturer’s 58-percent stakeholder, Crescent Capital of Bahrain. Crescent is a subsidiary of the First Islamic Investment Bank and participated in the restructuring of Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus earlier this year.

On the Training Front

Gulfstream IV and GV pilots no longer will need to travel to the U.S. for training, following the announcement of a new joint venture being established in Dubai by local carrier Emirates Airlines and Canadian simulator manufacturer CAE. This will be the first facility outside the U.S. to offer such training, according to CAE aviation training and commercial simulation vice president Bob van Balen.

The Dubai center’s two flight simulators will be certified to FAA/JAA level-D standards. The facility will also hold three simulators–one each for the Boeing 737NG, Airbus A320 family and A330/340–with provision for an additional seven simulators in the future. Boeing 737 and A320 devices are to be installed in an interim center next year until the new facility opens in 2003.

The 10-year, $100 million agreement covers construction and operation of the new center. Van Balen said the Middle East region training market is growing at 10 percent a year.

The greatest Dubai 2001 novelty in the civil helicopter department was provided by a full-scale mockup of the Bell/Agusta Aerospace AB139. Agusta also displayed its A109 K2, and Bell brought a 407 to the show. Eurocopter exhibited an AS 355N Twin Squirrel.

AgustaWestland announced that it is teaming with Lockheed Martin to develop a U.S. version of the EH 101 large transport helicopter. Dubbed the US 101, the helicopter will be targeted primarily at military and government customers.

In the aircraft completions arena, Lufthansa Technik (LHT) touted its advances in the use of broadband technology for both in-flight television and Internet access. It is due to start testing the system next year in a Lufthansa Airlines Boeing 747. Also in LHT’s show portfolio were the new surround-sound audio systems offered in partnership with ELAC Loudspeaker Systems. LHT chairman August Henningsen said the capacity at its Hamburg, Germany completions center is now fully booked through 2003.

A Regional Perspective

Despite a long-anticipated expansion of regional airline service in the Middle East, this class of aircraft was largely conspicuous by its absence from Dubai 2001.

On October 29 in Brazil, Embraer had rolled out the first example of its rebranded 70-seat Embraer 170, forming part of a family that will also include the larger 175, 190 and 195 models. The Brazilian manufacturer replaced the ERJ designation for these aircraft because it will now market them as more than pure regional jets, offering alternatives to the 737, A320 and DC-9.

From the Ukraine’s 410 Aircraft Repair Factory came a special edition of the Antonov
An-24 twin turboprop. The -RV model appeared in Dubai in the colors of AR 410 Airlines, a new charter operator created by the airframer in a bid to kickstart sales of the aircraft.

Regional airline operations will probably fare better than other air-transport sectors during the current recession, according to Europe’s Avions de Transport Regional. Senior vice president of commercial aircraft Paolo Revelli-Beaumont argued that “operators will go back to the basics,” which will give turboprop manufacturers an advantage because of lower operating costs.

“That is not to say that the regional jet mania is over,” he added. “They make a lot of sense but their introduction coincided with a major boom in the late 1990s.” Acknowledging that the downturn had already been apparent before September 11, the ATR executive commented, “It has been like walking on a cliff edge and now a gust has blown us all off.”

ATR is hoping that it can maintain a consistent backlog of 12 months’ production of about 25 aircraft. The European manufacturer took orders for 22 aircraft in the first 10 months of the year.

Engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce opened a new regional office in Dubai during the show in a ceremony presided over by Emirates Airlines chairman HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum. Emirates also signed up as the latest operator to use Rolls’ e-business portal. Dominating the UK company’s show stand was a Trent 768 high-bypass turbofan that was awaiting upgrade to the Trent 772B standard, as well as a Trent 500 that powers the A340-600.