Will the Arab Spring Be Followed by a Rich Aerospace harvest in Dubai?

 - October 2, 2011, 11:20 PM
This year’s Dubai Air Show will once again show the extent to which aerospace and defense demand is still growing in the Middle East marketplace.

As the next biennial Dubai Air Show approaches, all eyes are on the Middle East, but not entirely for the usual reasons. Even after being dented by the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the region still holds huge potential for the air transport and aerospace industries. But to what extent could this potential be affected–negatively or positively–by the fallout from the so-called Arab Spring political upheaval still unfolding in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia? The truth is that no one knows the answer to this, nor can anyone say for sure how much farther the wave of change might spread as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prepares to host one of the world’s top airshows.

What we do know is that the Dubai Air Show (November 13 to 17) is still growing, at least in terms of numbers of exhibitors. Organizer Fairs & Exhibitions (F&E) believes that the number of exhibitors could nudge 1,000 this year, compared with 890 companies in 2009. That said, the weakened world economy is manifesting itself in that some exhibitors are reducing the scale of their presence so that the overall floor space for this year’s show will not be larger.

Once again, this year’s is supposed to be the last staging of the Dubai Air Show at the Dubai Airport Expo center before it moves to the Dubai World Central complex at the new Al Maktoum International Airport. F&E has abandoned the separate Emirates Hall that was introduced in 2009 and will keep all the exhibitors in the three main halls at Dubai Airport Expo. It has extended the reception building to make more room for exhibit space, and more companies are opting for new outdoor pavilions on the flight display line.

One such exhibitor is Bombardier, which is expected to unveil the first full-size mock-up of its new C Series outside its pavilion in Dubai. Another expected debutante at the 2011 show will be a completely new civil helicopter from an undisclosed company.

According to Alison Weller, managing director of F&E’s aerospace division, first-timers will account for more than 20 percent of all exhibitors. Not only that, but some aerospace nations that have missed the show for a number of years are returning to Dubai this year–notably South Africa, Australia and Japan. “There is a big focus [among exhibitors] on the new products and services that can be brought to the Middle East,” she told AIN. “This is a great showcase for the region and there will be plenty of new items on display.”

But this year’s Dubai Air Show will also be looking backwards, with the UAE set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its independence on December 2. Aviation has always been a big part of the young country’s development, with companies such as Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways now ranked among the best in the world. You know that a country has really arrived on the global aviation stage when it has its own aerobatic display team. And now the UAE Air Force has achieved this landmark, with Al Fursan [Arabic for The Knights] set to make its world debut at this year’s show flying its seven Aermacchi MB-339A jet trainers.

Building an Aviation Workforce

To reach the next level in fulfilling its aviation destiny, the UAE needs to tap the next generation of professionals. That’s the focus of another new feature of the Dubai Air Show–Futures Day to be held on Thursday, November 17. “This is a great opportunity for young people to meet future employers,” explained Weller. “Boeing and Rolls-Royce will be running workshops to explain various career options and there will also be airline representatives and fighter pilots.”

Emiratization–the process through which local Emirati citizens emerge as a larger proportion of the UAE’s still largely expatriate workforce–is a big factor in Futures Day. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, has decreed that Emiratization and education must be the young nation’s primary focus now.

This is where the Dubai show’s Gulf Aviation Training Event is set to play its part. The conference will be held on the mornings of November 14 and 15 and it has drawn high-profile keynote speakers in FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and Flight Safety Foundation CEO William Voss. The Dubai show will also feature a special pavilion dedicated to training companies.

Babbitt is expected to tell the conference that the FAA remains concerned about whether recruitment and training of pilots and technicians by airlines in the Middle East is keeping up with the pace of growth there. Voss is going to address the impact of cockpit automation on the ability of pilots to control aircraft adequately in the event of system failure, as highlighted by the 2009 crash of an Air France Airbus A330 in the South Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The 2011 Dubai Air Show will once again reflect the incremental advance of the Middle East, not just as a consumer of aerospace products, but also as an active participant in manufacturing and service provision. There will be no better example of this than Mubadala Aerospace, which, with the backing of Abu Dhabi’s powerful sovereign wealth fund, has built a promising portfolio that includes Italy’s Piaggio Aero Industries and MRO group SR Technics. Also part of the group is Al Ain-based advanced composites maker Strata, which is now supplying aerostructures for the Airbus airliners that are still be ordered by the dozen by the region’s rapidly expanding airlines.

More information about the 2011 Dubai Air Show can be found at: www.dubaiairshow.aero.





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