Recovery in oil prices is reviving the hope of Gulf aerospace sales

Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Having established itself as the fourth most significant event in the global air show calendar after Paris, Farnborough and Singapore, Dubai 2000 is aiming to use to its advantage its timing as the last major show before the next millennium.

The trade-only show is being held from 14-18 November in the purpose-built Dubai 2000 Exhibition Centre, 2km (1.2 miles) east of Dubai International Airport. The new centre features two air-conditioned halls with 25,000m³ (881,000ft³) of exhibition space, as well as a 100,000m² static park.

The daily programme, running from 09:00-18.00, will feature a 3h flying display in the afternoons, including appearances by the Patrouille de France and the UK's Red Arrows display teams.

The exhibitor list, at the beginning of November, includes nearly 450 aerospace companies from around the world, drawn - despite notoriously overcrowded and financially draining air show schedules - by the continued importance of the Middle East as a market, with the potential for new contracts boosted by a recovery in the price of oil.

While most of the large fleet replacement orders for local airlines have been placed, the region continues to be a significant airliner market, especially for long-haul aircraft. .

It is also an attractive target for corporate aircraft manufacturers, while the Middle East's notoriety as a focus of political tension ensures that the potential for military sales remains high. Airbus Industrie and Boeing will attend the show, with Airbus displaying its A300-600ST Super Transporter, while Boeing spotlights the 777-300 and the Boeing Business Jet derivative of the Next Generation 737.

Airbus has forecast placing 700 aircraft in the Middle East and North Africa up to 2017. Emirates, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a sponsor of Dubai 2000, is the biggest customer for the Airbus A330-200, with five in service and 13 on order. More recently, it has leased three Boeing 777-300s, which will be its biggest aircraft. The first is to be formally handed over at the show.

The aircraft will be operated on routes to Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and will be configured with 380 seats for European routes, and in a high-density 434-seat layout for the Asian and Indian routes. Two of the new aircraft are being leased from Singapore Aircraft Leasing, with the third coming from International Lease Finance.

Other recent fleet renewals in the region have come from Qatar - with Qatar Airways replacing its Boeing 727 fleet with Airbus A320s - and from Oman, where Oman Air has begun long-haul operations with secondhand Airbus A310s and A300s.

Qatar's Gulf Falcon Group is expected to announce the launch of a new aircraft leasing company and a new airline at the show. Company chairman Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani says that the group will introduce cargo and passenger services on a wet-lease basis, allowing Gulf Falcon to operate for other airlines that need additional capacity.

More intense activity is likely in defence, with the six Gulf states expected to increase their defence budgets into the next century - although some local officials blame outside influences for this necessity. At the last Dubai show, the regional press quoted Maj General Faleh Al Shatti, assistant secretary general of the Riyadh-based General Secretariat for GCC States, as saying: "The GCC states are forced to spend more on military equipment and strategies in the coming few years because of the scenarios drawn up by global powers who are the major beneficiaries from the region's instability."

Whatever the reasons, the Gulf has accounted in recent years for a large percentage of the world's arms procurements, and military aerospace manufacturers continue to jostle for position in this market.

The UAE has yet to sign an expected contract for its new fighter force of 80 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 aircraft. The contract has been held up since the aircraft's selection in May last year, both by the slump in oil prices and by technical issues, including a dispute over UAE access to software. As a result of the delay, rival fighter manufacturers Dassault and Eurofighter hope that the competition will open up again, with Dassault offering the Rafale, and Eurofighter the Typhoon.

All three aircraft will be on display at Dubai 2000, although the Typhoon will appear only in mock-up form to avoid slowing development programme activity. Officials from Eurofighter partner British Aerospace say that, in the initial UAE fighter competition, the Typhoon was used more as a stalking horse to push the F-16's price down than as a serious contender. But they are now confident that development progress makes the aircraft a serious contender, should the competition ever be revived. Dassault, meanwhile, will supply a total of 63 Dassault Mirage 2000-9 fighters to UAE.

The UAE is also known to need jet trainers and light attack aircraft. This is drawing interest from BAe, which is offering its Hawk family in competition with Germany's low-cost offer of second-hand Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets.

Among other countries in the region, Saudi Arabia has various requirements which have been held up by the oil price slump. Last year, the country nominally selected the F-16C/D as a replacement for its F-5s, but has yet to sign a contract.

The country also requires another 25 Boeing F-15Ss as an attrition purchase, a deal which Boeing will be keen to pursue to keep its F-15 production line open in anticipation of a possible future order from South Korea.


Saudi Arabia is also understood to be thinking about airborne early warning, tanker and transport aircraft purchases which could begin to solidify with the oil-price recovery. On the attack-helicopter front, Kuwait has selected the Boeing AH-64D Apache (left) - which will be displayed at the show - but problems have developed in the US approval process and the competition continues.

The strength of the region as a market for business aircraft is reflected in Dubai Civil Aviation's decision to build a business centre in Dubai Airport's Terminal 2 to cater exclusively for executive flights. US business jet firm Galaxy Aerospace is using its first appearance as an exhibitor at the show to display two new aircraft: the $17 million Galaxy supermid-size, and the mid-sized Astra SPX business jet.

Another newcomer to the show will be Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development (AIDC), which will be promoting its indigenously developed AT-3 for export as an advanced trainer. AIDC will also be promoting the Ibis Aerospace Ae-270 turboprop utility aircraft, which the Taiwanese manufacturer is developing in partnership with Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic.

Maintenance, repair and overhaul will also be a focus of the show, with companies such as Alitalia Technical Operations, Lufthansa Technik and Marshall Aerospace putting in appearances. "The region will continue to be a major centre of aviation activity," says Marshall's marketing and business development director, Dick Milne.

"As all of the economies mature, the emphasis will increasingly focus on the development of local capabilities. Marshall Aerospace intends working with national governments and companies to assist with training and technology transfer," says Milne.

Source: Flight International