Power politics at the Dubai Airshow

I didn’t get to the Dubai Airshow, but the Flight team has been returning in slightly scorched dribs and drabs over the past couple of days and it seems it was quite something. There is much excitable talk elsewhere (which I’m not sure I buy) about it now being more or less as important as Paris and Farnborough. But what is for sure is that it is even more political than either of them. The Arab aviation community is in the driving seat for now at least and making absolutely certain that everyone knows it.

I’d love to know about all the string-pulling, schmoozing, diplomatic notes, and backhanders that went into creating this final image of the show.

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That’s nine Franco-British engines, two pretty much British engines, nine British fighters and one very large American aircraft. Possibly more importantly, it’s 18 Union Jacks! Slightly incredibly, it seems that Airbus got outmanoeuvred for once.Power matters in the Gulf. Flight International will have a nice anecdote next week about just who constitutes a VIP at the show and who doesn’t (clue, you had better have Sheikh in your title.) And one of my colleagues witnessed an extremely senior figure in the Western aerospace world being dismissively brushed off by the Arab gentleman with whom he wanted to co-operate.

So how important is the show? Well, right now it’s clearly extremely important – you can’t easily argue with sales of 400 airliners in a week. But that’s a trick that’s hard to repeat on a biennial basis when virtually all the business is based on sales into the region.

And I think it’s educational that the whole shebang actually changed organisers during the show without generating much comment. You can see why – Tarsus Group of the UK is paying $23.5 million upfront for the whole of the WR Kern Organisation which is the holding company for Fairs and Exhibitions which operates eight exhibitions of one sort or another in Dubai, including the airshow. There could be another $11.5 million to come depending on performance. Now that’s reasonably serious money for most of us – but really not all that much in the greater scheme of things.

Exhibition finances are notoriously opaque – it could just be that Dubai drove such a good deal with Fairs and Exhibitions that the poor organisers don’t extract as much as you’d think. I rather suspect we’ll never know.

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