Expectations of a late-2013 surge in new airliner deals were handsomely surpassed at last month’s Dubai Airshow (November 17-21), with aircraft orders (including the engines that will power them) exceeding a record-breaking $200 billion mark, as of press time. But business aviation also put on a strong showing, accounting for roughly a third of the 150 or so aircraft occupying a packed static display at the biennial event’s new Dubai World Central (DWC) site. The impressive purpose-built show venue closely replicates the appearance of the long-standing site at Dubai International Airport. But the facilities are far more functional and the (for-now) under-utilization of DWC’s new Al Maktoum International Airport gives it plenty of scope to be a superb airshow venue. That said, windy conditions and some mild sandstorms blowing up from the surrounding desert did quell some of the aerial activity.
The most tangible outcome of a flurry of fleet replenishment and expansion orders by a four-some of Gulf carriers was the launch of Boeing’s new-generation 777X, a larger, more fuel-efficient version of the strong-selling twinjet. Even Boeing’s traditionally conservative board was convinced to issue the green light after receiving a mix of orders and commitments for up to 225 of the new jets from Dubai’s Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Emirates Airline’s 777X contract is for 115 of the -9X model and 35 -8Xs. Etihad ordered 25 777Xs, as well as thirty 787-10s and a single 777-200 freighter. Qatar joined the 777X rally with a letter of intent calling for 50 777-9Xs.
Narrowbodies were not neglected at the Dubai show. FlyDubai, Emirates’ low-fare subsidiary, radically stepped up plans to expand its fleet by ordering 100 of the new Boeing 737 Max and 11 of the existing 737-800NGs. Etihad signed up for 36 of rival Airbus’s A320 neos.
Overall, and unusually, Airbus was outgunned for airshow orders, but it certainly didn’t go home empty-handed. Emirates sealed its position as the world’s leading A380 operator with an order for 50 more of the double-deckers in a move that will take its total tally to 140. Etihad ordered another 50 itself. Qatar ordered five A330 freighters (plus options for eight more).
Leasing group GE Capital Aviation Services closed a $241 million deal with ATR comprising a firm order for five ATR 72-600s and options on five more. The European airframer also secured a sale for a single example of the twin turboprop from Saudi Arabia’s Alpha Star Aviation.
Bombardier landed a new customer for its Q400 turboprop in Africa, inking a conditional order with Air Côte d’Ivoire for a pair of the 74-seat turboprops. The national carrier of the Ivory Coast, established in January, has also signed for two options, convertible until November next year. Bombardier values the potential firm order at $69 million based on list prices.
Ethiopian Airlines reinforced its commitment to the Q400 with a contract to become an authorized service facility for the big turboprop and a commitment to take another four of the airplanes on lease from Palma Holding. Palma has signed a letter of intent with Bombardier covering a firm order for the four airplanes and options on another four.
Iraqi Airways has signed a letter of intent to place a firm order for five Bombardier CS300s, with options on another five. Scheduled for first delivery in 2016, Iraqi’s CSeries jets would come configured with 12 business-class and 140 economy seats. Bombardier places the value of the potential firm order at $387 million.
Meanwhile, Bombardier has finally signaled that it will not build a larger turboprop anytime soon, but rather reconfigure its Q400 to fit as many as 86 passenger seats by replacing the right rear baggage compartment door with a passenger exit. Nok Air of Thailand has agreed to become the launch customer, placing a firm order for two Q400s and taking options on another two. It also signed for so-called purchase rights on another four of the airplanes.
While orders for business jets were not a big part of the Dubai Airshow, the manufacturers showed up with aircraft and touted their products’ suitability for the Middle East market.
Dassault Aviation is still more than a year away from flying the Falcon 5X but announced “first simulated flight” of the Falcon Simulation Bench version of the 5X at its design office in St. Cloud, France, on November 13. At the controls were chief test pilot Philippe Deleume and test pilot Philippe Rebourg.
Pilatus landed an important initial commitment for its new PC-24 jet, with Abu Dhabi-based Falcon Aviation Services signing a letter of intent for one copy of the utility twinjet, which was launched in May. The Swiss manufacturer is not formally opening its order book until the EBACE show next May, but Falcon has effectively become the launch customer for the program with this provisional agreement.
Nextant Aerospace’s 400XTi remanufactured Beechjet 400A/XP was one of the main novelties among the 50 business aircraft on the Dubai static display. The U.S re-manufacturing expert was also touting its plans for a new take on the Beechcraft King Air C90.
Dubai-based Empire Aviation Group has extended the scope of its managed fleet operations into Africa with the addition of a pair of Dassault Falcon 900DXs. The aircraft will be based in Lagos and operated on behalf of their Nigerian owner.
Jet Aviation has expanded its FBO operation at DWC (also known as Al Maktoum International Airport). One improvement is the availability of customized maintenance vans for dispatching support teams from its main base at Dubai International Airport. Also now available at the new airport are services such as visa expediting, catering, limousine services and interior and exterior aircraft cleaning.
Jetex Flight Support opened its new FBO at DWC during the week before the airshow. The company is offering a lounge, ground support, fueling, handling and security services. For now the company is occupying a temporary facility shared with other service providers but it plans to build its own three-floor standalone terminal in the airport’s general aviation zone and open it by 2015.
In the military domain, the big talking point of the show was the long-awaited outcome of the UAE requirement for a new fighter. Ahead of the event, Dassault’s Rafale had appeared to be in pole position, but the unexpected arrival of British Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of the show firmed up reports from program insiders that the rival Eurofighter Typhoon might be closing in on an agreement with the local military. The next few days saw a flurry of high-level comings and goings by senior officials on both sides of the contest, but by press time the anticipated memorandum of understanding had yet to materialize.
Piaggio Aero and Selex ES announced a breakthrough in their combined efforts to get into the UAV market. Two days before the show opened, their Avanti-based P.1HH Hammerhead remotely piloted twin turboprop made its first flight in Italy.
AgustaWestland received an order for 15 AW189s from Gulf Helicopters of Qatar. The first two aircraft are slated for delivery next year and all aircraft should achieve operational readiness in 2017. Meanwhile, anotherAW139 operator, Dubai Airwing, ordered one AW189 forVIP transport, and the Dubai Police is to operate five AW169s for law enforcement, emergency medical services and as VIP transports. Both contracts were announced at the Dubai Airshow.
Quest Aviation, which had planned to develop the first locally produced helicopter in the Gulf, instead has put that program on hold and become the sales distributor for MD Helicopters in the UAE. In addition to helicopter sales, Quest also plans to open a helicopter MRO facility.