Dubai Air Show Preview 2009

 - October 28, 2009, 1:00 PM

The world’s aerospace industry could use a morale boost, and it might just get it at the 2009 Dubai Air Show (November 15 to 19) at the end of a year that has brought little but austerity and uncertainty. The Middle East has been a strong generator of growth over the past decade, and the market’s potential to revive otherwise sluggish sales in the aerospace sector is more important now than ever before. While it has not been untouched by the continuing global economic downturn, the region is bucking the trend of stagnation in air traffic demand and remains an important customer for new defense technology.

Latest figures from the International Air Transport Association reveal the Middle East to be the only region of the world experiencing an increase in air traffic demand. At the end of the second quarter, the growth rate stood at 12.9 percent for the region, with airlines there increasing airliner capacity by just over 15 percent. As of press time, full statistics for the third quarter were not yet available, but month-on-month figures for July and August suggested the Middle East airlines were continuing to buck a gloomy global trend of meager traffic recovery but continued squeezing of profits by rising costs.

According to the latest market forecast from Airbus, international air passenger traffic within the Middle East will grow 6.6 percent over the next decade, making it the world’s fastest-growing region for air transport. The European airframer added that the number of aircraft serving the region would almost triple by 2028.

Boeing’s forecasters share the view that air travel in the Middle East is stronger than in most global regions, reporting that the market will be worth $300 billion over the next two decades. The U.S. company predicts a requirement for more than 1,700 new airliners in the Middle East over that period.

Despite having shared in some of the pain that has come to the business aviation sector this year, there does still seem to be real hope of continued growth for this sector in the region. Unlike for June’s Paris Air Show (for which Cessna and Gulfstream opted not to exhibit), all the major business aircraft manufacturers, as well as several up-and-coming challengers such as Aerion (which proposes a supersonic business jet), will be exhibiting in Dubai.

Around the time of the last Dubai Air Show in November 2007, the prospect of getting into the Middle East’s burgeoning business aviation market must have seemed like a license to print money. Even though financial storm clouds had already gathered over North America at that point, and seemed likely to cross the Atlantic to Europe, the consensus in this part of the world seemed to be that the business aviation party had only just started and nothing was going to stop it.

Two years on, it has become clear that the Middle East was not immune to the fallout from the global financial crisis and this has undoubtedly impinged on the region’s extraordinary growth rates. But it has by no means smothered business aviation growth in the region, according to business aviation companies AIN interviewed before the show.

In January 2008, the Middle East Business Aviation Association was estimating that the sector would grow by as much as 15 to 20 percent annually, according to the group’s chairman, Ammar Balkar, who is also CEO of Dubai-based charter/management operator Elite Jets. Last month he told AIN that 2009 subsequently has seen a drop in charter activity of 30 to 40 percent.

Despite the adjustment in the fortunes of the Middle East business aviation market, Balkar pointed out that it has taken a big leap forward over the past decade. “In 1999 there really was only one [business aircraft charter] operator and now there are at least 25,” he said, while adding that some operators have had to rein in their fleet growth plans. “Ten years ago, [business aviation] was purely for royal families and VIPs, but despite the growth the market is still not saturated; it is immature and there is plenty of room for more growth.”

According to Dubai Air Show organizer Fairs & Exhibitions, the 2009 staging of the biennial event will draw as many as 900 exhibitors from nearly 50 countries, and some 50,000 visitors.

All the Dubai News from AIN: In Print and Online

All the latest news from the 2009 Dubai Air Show will be available from AIN, which will be producing three daily on-site publications (November 15-17). If you can’t be there, go to www.ainonline.com for all the latest news from the show.

Exhibitors with news for the Dubai show should contact AIN international show editions editor Charles Alcock as soon as possible. News embargoes will be strictly honored. Information and photos can be sent to CAlcockAIN@aol.com or call + 44 1252 727758.