2013 Dubai airshow

17 Nov 13. With over one thousand different exhibitors the 2013 Dubai Airshow is not only busy, active and the place to be if ‘West’ wants to meet ‘East’ in terms of measuring up the competition and opening doors to new business but I am told that this year it also has a terrific feel of excitement and innovation.

That’s hardly surprising because Dubai 2013 is being held aside a brand new airport that may well be the largest anywhere in the world. These days’ biennial airshow events be they Dubai, Farnborough, Paris and others tend to be judged by the number and value of order announcements. I might wish otherwise, but If that is the case then the 2009 and 2011 Dubai events could be considered as rather less than successful. Not the 2013 show though, as the first day of what is a five day show has seen some of the largest and most valuable orders ever for commercial aircraft.

No surprise either that with the Dubai Airshow being held on its own home territory orders from Emirates Airlines for hundreds of new planes is further confirmation that, in terms of forward strategy, the largest airline in the Middle East is determined to lead by example. By whatever standards you measure this the orders from Emirates Airlines for an additional 50 Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft, for 150 of the Boeing 777X are more than enough to confirm that this huge, powerful and very successful airline – run by the formidable Tim Clark – is not just a cut above the rest but also one that is destined very soon to be the most important airline in the world.

Emirates isn’t the only airline that has been busy signing off new orders at the Dubai Air Show this morning as Qatar Airlines ordered 56 Boeing 777X aircraft and took options for another 26. Qatar also announced that it would expand its freighter aircraft fleet by ordering 13 Airbus A330F. Meanwhile, Etihad Airlines, an already large, and still fast growing Middle East airline based in Abu Dhabi, ordered 50 Airbus A350XWB planes plus 36 Airbus A320 NEO’s, one Airbus A330F and 25 of the newly launched Boeing 777X variant.

True, Emirates Airlines is wholly owned by the Government of Dubai just as Etihad is owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi and Qatar is the state owned airline of its government too. ‘Flydubai’ is also owned by the same government shareholder as Emirates. For these whilst the achievement of growth can only occur off the back of a well planned and executed strategy the ease at which the new breed of state owned airlines has been able to secure funds to expand makes comparison with western airlines who are forced to play on a rather different playing field of little worth.

For those interested, and who wish to know more about the forward strategy of Emirates, I recommend that you read an IATA interview published last year with Emirates CEO Tim Clark under the title ‘Emirates Airline Make It Happen (http://www.iata.org/publications/airlines-international/june-2012/Pages/ceo-interview-emirates.aspx).

Back in Dubai and not to be outdone in yet another mega deal that was announced at the show ‘flydubai’ ordered 100 Boeing 737MAX aircraft plus another 11 of the current 737-800 version of the plane. This as I say is only day one of the show but more than enough to suggest that the man who last week said that ‘with the majority of anticipated order announcements this year probably already made the Dubai Air Show might be a bit quieter than usual this year’ should be taken out and shot!

The raft of order announcements for the Boeing 777X are particularly good news for the Chicago based aircraft manufacturer as they get the newest version of the fine 777 family of aircraft off to a very good start. This means that with the latest orders announced together with the September announcement that Lufthansa would buy 34 (and possibly extend this to 64 airplanes through options) that the 777X will go into production with no less than 259 orders in hand. For Airbus the order from Emirates for an additional fifty A380’s is surely confirmation, if it were ever needed, that the largest commercial aircraft to be built in world is not only producing huge benefits for customer airlines and passengers already using it but also that the prospect for future sales remains excellent.

The Dubai Air Show has come a very long way since the first small event took place in 1989. Now held in the grounds of the new Dubai World Central Airport the success of the Dubai show reflects the ever growing importance of the aviation industry to the Gulf region and of how the region’s big airlines have set out to conquer the world. The new airport which I guess (I am not quite sure on the size of some of the currently in-build airports in China) is possibly the largest in the world was from the start designed to be the most efficient place for airline passengers travelling from east to west or vice-versa to transit. While western airports are clogged up and, if the battle royal going on in London to decide whether to build an additional runway at Heathrow or maybe instead to build a new airport in the middle of a big estuary in the middle of nowhere is anything to go by, quite likely to remain stuck in the mangrove of environmental political dogma for a long while yet it is easy to get the impression that by the time we have moved forward an inch our Middle East aviation industry competitors will probably gone forward by yet another mile.

In Dubai the aviation industry contributes no less than $22bn or if you prefer 28% of the city-state’s gross domestic product. Dubai is master of all it surveys in the global aviation industry today and if that is so then it is to the credit to the major contributor to the ongoing story of growth achievement – Emirates Airlines – that the real prize must go. The growth of Emirates Airlines has been phenomenal and its part in the development of Dubai’s own place in global aviation has gone hand in hand. As ‘USA Today’ pointed out last week it is hard to imagine that just two years ago when Emirates “placed an order for 50 Boeing 777-300ER’s worth an estimated $18bn that this was the largest single order the Seattle based aircraft manufacturer had ever received”. Well I have got news for analysts, journalists and everyone else – Boeing has just received a single order for three times that number of planes!

The next really big airshow event will be in the traditional heartlands of Hampshire, England in late July next year and where it arguably all began. Well, not quite true because although Farnborough has a 107-year aviation history having hosted the first balloon factory to be built in Britain and that, just a very few years after Wilbur and Orville Wright had made the very first flight in the USA, Mr. Samuel Cody made the very first flight of a manned aircraft in the UK at Farnborough airfield the first official airshow events in Britain were held at Hendon, Hatfield and Radlett. In fact the first ever Society of British Aircraft Manufacturers ‘Farnborough Air Show’ did not take place until 1948. But while the history of the Farnborough and of the Le Bourget show in Paris which is held on alternate years to Farnborough is both fascinating and larger than life it is increasingly clear that be it through lack of investment, available airspace, government commitment or the ability of the respective management to be bold and take greater levels of risk that these shows are less of a match than they had once been for the newer breed of airshow developments such as Dubai.

I want Farnborough to succeed and I am in no doubt that the 2014 show will be deemed to be successful from an exhibitor, trade, networking and organizer profit point of view. Not before time I understand that new investment is being put into the chalet areas and hopefully some of the roads, track ways and hard-standing areas too. But will Farnborough be able to attract enough military and commercial aircraft as either standing exhibits or able to take part in the afternoon flying display? This year in Paris not one US military aircraft was to be seen and the same was also true in Farnborough the year before. With sequestration unlikely to have gone away, the chances of the Americans bringing their toys into Farnborough town look remote. Less said the better about the actual flying display at Farnborough 2012 and no use blaming it all on the weather either. With Gatwick not that far away and being boxed in with regard to ease of using available airspace it just may be that the longer term development of Farnborough may need to be as an aerospace equipment trade show event rather than a place one comes to see planes fly.

Back in Dubai and as part of a wider tour around various Middle East states the fantastic Royal Air Force Red Arrows are doing their bit to support British industry just as was the Prime Minister when he was in Dubai yesterday. There is much going on in the Middle East and British interests and our continued involvement in various countries should hopefully leave us well placed to play a hopefully large part in what they seek to achieve.

Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
M: 07710 779785


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