After sending reporters back and forth from canceled press conference to canceled press conference, the organizers of this month’s Dubai Air Show clearly appeared as frustrated as the press corps by the shifting messages sent by OEMs and their customers at the Middle East’s preeminent aerospace event. In fact, at one point toward the waning days of show it seemed as though the last-minute contractual wrangling might dash hopes for further big commercial announcements beyond the record-setting 777-300ER order from Emirates and Airbus’s deal with Kuwaiti lessor ALAFCO for 50 A320neos.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Qatar Airways played a significant role in all the chaos, after booking three press conference slots on the first day of the show, only to appear for none of them. Of course, Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker did prove predictable in one sense—by sounding off about one of his major vendors, only to reverse course hours later by placing a $6.4 billion order for 50 A320neos and five A380s. Calling into question Airbus’s ability to build airplanes, Al Baker once again drew attention to himself by disparaging one of the world’s two major airframe manufacturers. You have to hand it to him, though. The man always seems to get what he wants—presumably under terms he finds favorable.
Unfortunately, all the drama happened on the day AIN published its last show daily. Alas, a flurry of commercial activity would occur during the last couple of days of the show, when both Boeing and Airbus collected enough narrowbody business to send nearly everyone home happy. In fact, Airbus’s deal with Qatar came hours after the European airframer signed a memorandum of understanding with Spirit Airlines for 45 A320neos and 30 standard A320s. Even Bombardier joined in the narrowbody sales bonanza, collecting its first C Series business in the region from Turkish low-fare carrier Atlasjet, which signed an LOI for 15 CS300s.
For Boeing’s part, a tentative contract with Indonesia’s LionAir for at least 203 of the U.S. manufacturer’s 737 MAX jets padded an order book that Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh told a group of reporters had reached 700 units before the show even started. During the November 12 “roundtable” briefing with local reporters and a few trade journalists, Albaugh predicted Boeing’s backlog for the 737 MAX would “pretty much” equal Airbus’s for the A320neo, which prior to the show had drawn firm orders for 1,100 examples and total commitments for some 1,300.
Indeed, for the world’s OEMs, the so-called Arab Spring appeared to have sprung in Dubai, despite what Albaugh called the risk of “contagion” from the looming financial crisis in Europe. For the naysayers who dismissed the Gulf region’s economic expansion over the past two decades as a house of cards ready to fall with the shifting sands of the Arabian desert, the continuing flow of orders during the Dubai show attest to the assertion that the rise of the Middle East aviation market is no mirage.