All systems go for 15th air show

The 15th exhibition of Dubai air show, to be held from November 12 to 16 at the Dubai World Central, will have more than 1,200 exhibitors – including 100 taking part for the first time – and over 160 aircraft on display during the show.

Issue No. 21 | November 1-15, 2017By Bikram Vohra, DubaiPhoto(s): By USAF
A file photograph of the Al Fursan, the UAE Air Force aerobatic display team, flying in formation behind a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle at the 2015 Dubai Airshow

It has come a long way from that first valiant effort in 1986. Those days the two names on the aviation marquee were Farnborough and le Bourget with Singapore bringing up the also ran position.

Today the Dubai air show ranks right up there with the best of them. In fact, it can be said that the four-day air-fest is now considered the benchmark for the industry’s bi-annual get together.

The 15th exhibition, to be held from November 12 to 16 at the Dubai World Central, will have more than 1,200 exhibitors – including 100 taking part for the first time – and over 160 aircraft on display during the show.

Among the new dimensions given to the show are the Space Conference and the display of the unmanned aerial systems.

Besides aircraft, the fresh emphasis is also on space exploration and keeping in mind the UAE involvement in the Mars mission this aspect is being given precedence this year. Between that new dimension and the airport solutions segment as well as the cargo conference things are certainly going to be exciting. This is the first time in the history of aviation exhibitions that the future is being made the theme of the four-day spectacle. Space exploration, travel and the combination of wanderlust and scientific research will be of the essence.

Of great interest to fans of the Apollo missions will be the presence of Captain Al Worden who piloted Apollo 15 and will be addressing a select audience on his experiences along with an audio visual presentation. Adding another angle to the show is the Gulf Aviation Training Event (GATE) and Futures Day elements. These are designed to encourage the younger generation to step up to the plate and discover career options in the aerospace industry which are now opening up. In sharp contrast is the seminar slated to address the global shortage of flight crew and what needs to be done about it.

With a high of 75,000 visitors expected as against the 66,000 in 2015 the sales may not touch the high of 2013 when major orders fueled the bottom line but will probably rise higher than the 2015 edition which saw over $37 billion in orders. If one recalls, the major carriers in the region had placed huge orders in 2013 and these are still being completed so there would be a natural slow down until the deliveries have been completed. Since these deliveries are still ongoing such repeat huge orders from the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are not likely. Also, with subdued oil prices, the political attrition between the GCC enclave and its isolation of Qatar and the general slowing down in air traffic the bottom line is relatively weak at present. Qatar Airways is hurting, Etihad is getting over its lost investments in Air Berlin and Alitalia which went belly up and Emirates is most concerned on being left out on a limb by Airbus failure to keep the A380 project in a positive frame. Even Emirates decision over the selection of either the A350 or the Boeing 787 is supposedly on hold if one goes by the statement made at Paris in September by the airline President Tim Clark. He said that the carrier would do what it feels is right for it and not necessarily see the Dubai airshow as the venue for any future announcement. Emirates is certainly expecting Airbus to man up on the A380 plus and also assure its best customer that there are others ready to go for the big babe although none of the other Mid East carriers seem so inclined.

By 2020, the region carriers will be flying an estimated 1,020 airplanes.

The highest growth market for the Middle East is projected to be to and from Southwest Asia (the Indian subcontinent area) at five per cent, followed by intra-Middle East travel at 4.3 percent. The most heavily travelled routes, in total passengers, will continue to be to and from European markets.

The Middle East is also expected to experience economic growth at higher than the world average during the next 20 years. In addition, the 5.7 per cent air travel growth projection provides a strong foundation for expansion by the region’s airlines.

It was expected that the A329neo would ignite a spurt of interest but with the trials not yet over at Toulouse Blagnac it has to be given a pass for now. Attention will largely be on the high noon duel between the Airbus 350-900 and the Boeing 787 series as both battle for supremacy in the long haul wide-body twin engine category. With Thai Airways and Delta exulting over the introduction of the A350 XWB the future here looks good but the Boeing 787-900 is a lot cheaper at $264 million than the tag on the Airbus 350-900 which is $304 million.

Both aircraft are constructed carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) and capable of withstanding higher pressure. It should be fun to see the two big boys in the market fighting for a share of the market even though there has always been that lurking suspicion that both manufacturers are happy with a plus 50 per cent of the market share despite their public antagonism and the spice it adds to the airshows but don’t really want to spool and invest that much more in their assembly lines. Where Boeing might have a thin edge of the wedge (in a nice way) is to offer a package deal along with the top selling 787-900 and the under test 323 seat double stretched 787-10X which promises to up the ante considerably.

In the feeder single aisle aircraft we could see a continuation of the 321 family versus the 737 cluster but no major deal is on the anvil at this juncture though Saudi Airlines could be looking at an augmentation. flydubai has already brought in its 737 MAX and will have it on display thereby showing tangible evidence to provoke buyer interest.

One of the major points of interests will be the air taxi concept in which Dubai held a trial run in September. These autonomous air vehicles will be introduced into service sooner than one thinks and will transport passengers at will through short distances. Dubai has taken the lead in this respect and for sure unmanned vehicles will be the star of the show.

According to the official data from the organisers the “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit, a two-day dedicated conference taking place within the Dubai Airshow, has released its agenda for the event on the November 14 and 15, 2017. Covering the past, present and future of UAS within the aerospace industry, the conference will be moderated by Air Marshall Philip Sturley CB MBE RAF (Retd).”

While bizjets will likely constitute as high as 25 to 30 per cent of the static display at Dubai 2017 there is quite a boost being given the military sector from Boeing who are displaying their two advanced surveillance systems with the intent of making them region specific. The P-8 Poseidon successor to the Orion has already sold 8 systems to the US Navy but has been booked for a similar number each by India and Australia. It is mounted on a 737 and Boeing believes there is great potential in the Mid-East for this and for the Maritime Surveillance Aircraft which is in actuality a Bombardier Challenger 600 in its military avatar. Boeing is also looking for a wider market for the CH-24 Chinook choppers as it would be for its Apache Longbow gunships.

The usual gang of fighter aircraft are well represented. They include the Saab AB Gripen, the Dassault Aviation SA’ Rafale, Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies. The Russians are keen to market their Sukhoi range especially since it comes with an advanced trainer. Exports of Su-27 fighters enabled Russia to preserve its operational air force. This aircraft, considered the most capable fighter aircraft in its class, may well point the way to a fifth generation of air fighters

The Su-27 is a dogfighter’s dream. It has dazzled pilots with its ability to attack in the middle of screaming dives and ascents, setting 36 world records and is a favourite in the air displays.

There will also be a search for a market for the naval version of the Rafale. This makes a certain sense because the self-sell underscores a specific capability. Catapulted from a carrier deck in less than 75 metres, the Navy Rafale instantly and automatically rotates to the correct angle of attack. This critical operation is made possible by the aircraft’s innovative ‘jump strut’ nose landing gear.

In the trainer category the top contenders will be the BAE Hawk, the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, the Aero L-39 and the Yakovlev Yak-130. Also in the reckoning is the supersonic the T-38 Talon designed to ostensibly augment the F-35 programme. Embraer had in 2015 put the Super Tucano in the Dubai airshow and will probably still be seeking Mid East markets. The Brazilian manufacturer is likely to present the Legacy and Phenom bizjet and the E-jet concept will also ignite interest in this region.

It is going to be quite the display of air power in various categories and the highlight will still be the predicted slanging match between Boeing and Airbus. That is always a given at an airshow.