Flight International's 20 November edition has this to say about the Middle East's ambitions:
As the rest of the aerospace industry frets about fuel prices, the fallout
from the US credit crunch and the prospect of five years of aviation growth
running out of steam, there was a sense of the surreal at last week's Dubai air
show, set amid the soaring new skyscrapers and construction sites of the Middle
East's playground and commercial hub.
Given the seemingly insatiable appetite for new equipment of its airlines,
together with VIP charter operators such as Royal Jet (the world's biggest
operator of Boeing Business Jets), Dubai and its Gulf neighbours are in a large
way responsible for the current boom in the aerospace industry. Now, the region
wants to move from being merely a customer of original equipment manufacturers
to being a player in the supply chain and aftermarket in its own right.
But, despite its billions, it cannot do that on its own from scratch simply
by luring experienced expatriate executives and pilots with promises of low-tax,
crime-free, sun-soaked lifestyles as it has with its airlines. To build
sophisticated engineering, design and research sectors, it needs to enlist the
help of the West's aerospace heavyweights.
That is why at last week's show, there was a procession of big names -
Boeing, CAE, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Thales and SR
Technics - signing memoranda of understanding with DAE and its Abu Dhabi
counterpart Mubadala to explore joint ventures.
Those with an existing foothold in the region have a marked advantage. Boeing
and Lockheed Martin will be hoping to convert their respective involvement with
the Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates armed forces into civil projects. SR
Technics' owners include DAE and Mubadala, so it was an obvious candidate to
help transform the Mubadala-owned former Gulf Aircraft Maintenance (Gamco) into
Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies, centrepiece of that emirate's ambitions in the
global maintenance, repair and overhaul sector. CAE's efforts to gear-shift from
simulator manufacturer into all-round provider of training packages will be
helped by the potential of replicating in other Gulf centres its successful
Dubai-based Emirates-CAE Flight Training, where most of its clients are not
Emirates pilots but business aviation operators.
As more and more prospectors join this latter-day gold rush, the question few
dare to ask is: can it all be sustainable? What would the effect be of a major
Islamist terrorist attack on Dubai's image as the anything-goes, safe and
prosperous Switzerland of the Middle East - and thus the growth trajectory of
Emirates? What happens if the US credit crisis causes a slowdown in Asian
economies - the expansion of which is driving much Gulf-based cargo traffic?
Despite all the new airlines emerging the wider region, are there really enough
takers for yet another leasing company with a fleet in the hundreds of aircraft?
And, if the business is there, why are the likes of GECAS and ILFC not already
plugging that gap?
These did not seem to be matters troubling the Dubai air show's big spenders
last week, who are so bullish about their market predictions and their abilities
to meet them that sceptics seem like wild-eyed prophets in the wilderness. Six
years ago, Dubai's rulers were talking up the region's potential at an air show
held just weeks after the 9/11 attacks - from which much of a nervous Western
aerospace industry stayed away.
In the uncertain world of the time, their vision of a bright tomorrow was
dismissed by most industry-watchers as a desert mirage. Last week, DAE, Emirates
and a host of smaller operators backed up these promises with yet more hard
cash. A grateful Western aerospace industry is hoping the dream does not end.
AirSpace - more than just hot air