Douglas Barrie/Max Kingsley-Jones/Kate Sarsfield/LONDON
In the last few years, the Dubai air show has established itself as probably the fourth most significant international event (and second in regional terms after Singapore's Asian Aerospace) in the regular two-year air show calendar.
That achievement is a reflection of the importance of the Middle East region as a market for airliners (especially long-haul), as a particularly wealthy home for corporate aircraft and as a hotbed of international tensions which drive demand for the most up-to-date combat aircraft.
Dubai '97 will play host to a burgeoning business-aircraft industry. Fresh from the September National Business Aviation Association convention in Dallas, many manufacturers will be bringing their hardware for appraisal in possibly the world's most influential business-jet market - especially at the larger end.
A great deal of attention will be focused on top-of-the-range rivals Bombardier and Gulfstream displaying their Global Express (which will be given its Dubai debut with full interior) and V long-range business aircraft respectively.
Airbus Industrie will be touting for sales of its A319CJ(corporate jet), for which it will display a cabin mock-up. The Toulouse-based consortium has already clocked up seven orders for the $35 million twinjet airliner, but will be wanting to stimulate further interest in the wake of Boeing Business Jets' (BBJ) announcement that it is to offer its Next Generation BBJ, a variant of the 737-700 airliner through Executive Jet Aviation's Netjets fractional-ownership programme.
In the mid-sized range, Cessna will display its Citation X, Raytheon its Hawker 800XP and Dassault its Falcon 2000 business jet. The French manufacturer is also planning to enter the fractional-ownership arena by the end of the year, and is expected to offer shares in the twin-engined aircraft "to existing programmes".
Another Dubai '97 debutante is the ubiquitous Bell-Boeing Model 609 tilt-rotor in mock-up form. To date, the $8-10 million aircraft, whose first flight is scheduled for 1999, has attracted purchase agreements from 29 customers, amounting to 41 aircraft.
The line-up at the lighter end of the general-aviation (GA) market is weak, represented, to date, only by the Cessna Skyhawk 172 and 182 piston singles, the Boeing MD600 single-engined and Explorer twin-engined helicopters, the Zenair CH701 kitplane and the Pilatus PC-12 single-turboprop. The Swiss company will be hoping to swell its orderbook, following the recent US approval of commercial single-engined-operations instrument flight-rules.
The exhibition organisers anticipate "serious announcements" at the show, although only one pending $5 million, three-year, lease contract, between Amman-based executive charter company Arab Wings and an undisclosed "multi-national company", have been revealed. Arab Wings will release further details at the show.
Airbus Industrie and Boeing go to Dubai with important items on their "to-do" lists. Both manufacturers are planning to exhibit hardware at the show, and both are poised to launch new variants of the aircraft being displayed.
Airbus will bring either the A330-200 or A340-300 development aircraft. The A330-200 had its first flight in August and Airbus says that flight-testing of the first aircraft is going better than expected. If time can be spared from the schedule, it will be brought to Dubai, otherwise the A340 will deputise. Local carrier Emirates is a launch customer for the new long-range A330, and the programme was given its go-ahead just after this show two years ago.
Airbus' main priority as the year draws to a close is the full industrial launch of the A340-500/600 models, which could be one of the major announcements during the show. Two carriers, Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada, have committed to the models, and the manufacturer is eager to get the programme onto a firm basis before the end of the year.
Boeing is planning to display its latest version of the 777, the -300, which had its first flight on 16 October, as it seeks firm commitments for the longer-range 777-200/300X versions to enable the programme to be formally launched. Several carriers in the region have bought the existing 777, including Emirates, Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian, and Dubai could provide Boeing with the venue to launch the new models.
Sirocco Aerospace International will be displaying the Rolls-Royce RB.211-powered Tupolev Tu-204-120. The UK-based company undertakes the leasing activities for Egypt's Kato Aromatic, which has orders for 30 of the R-R-powered twinjets. Several lease deals have already been concluded to carriers in both the CIS and the Middle East.
The regional sector is represented by hardware from Fairchild Dornier (328), and Raytheon (Beech 1900D), while the Canadair Regional Jet and Embraer EMB-145 are notable by their absence from the aircraft-exhibitors' list so far. Both manufacturers will have stands at the show, however.
Show debutantes in the combat-aircraft arena include the Aero Vodochody L-159 light-fighter aircraft, having its international first appearance, as well as the thrust-vectoring variant of the Sukhoi Su-27M, dubbed the Su-37.
The thrust-vectoring Flanker is taking part in the flying display, and should once again provide a talking point.
The Aero L-159 had its maiden flight in August, with the aircraft on order for the Czech air force. With the L-159, the company is looking to build on the export success of its L-39 and L-59.
With the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yet to determine the winner of its strike-fighter competition, there will be considerable interest in the three contenders. Dassault and Lockheed Martin are showing off their competitors, the Rafale and F-16 respectively, while British Aerospace is displaying a full-scale mock-up of the Eurofighter EF2000.
The EF2000 was re-introduced to the UAEfighter competition earlier this year, when it had previously appeared that only an extended-range variant of the F-16, the Block 60, and the Rafale remained under consideration.
Some of the region's armed forces continue to harbour ambitions to acquire next-generation attack helicopters and Boeing's AH-64D attack helicopter will also be in attendance at the show. Kuwait, for instance, is in the throes of procuring a variant of the AH-64D.
The UAEis an AH-64A operator, as are Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Source: Flight International