If an air show orders tally is a measure of an industry's prospects, then now would be the time for anyone hoping for a quick recovery to return the champagne to the cellar. This was the first Dubai in years - including the one during 9/11's hangover - not marked by a big order from Emirates or another big Gulf carrier.

For many observers of this desert boomtown's ability to stage a spectacular, regardless of the real economy, last week's impressive event was another smoke and mirrors trick. This is the city after all that in the midst of recent financial woes unveiled a gleaming metro, the world's tallest tower and its most opulent hotel.

Others might see the lack of a headline-grabbing order as a sign of maturity from the world's fastest-growing long-haul airline. After expanding exponentially, Emirates has settled into a more controlled growth curve. It has not been floored by the problems which beset Dubai's overheated property and financial sectors and has continued its strategy of connecting the world through Dubai and exploiting its lure to tourists.

In fact, any big order announced last week might have been a PR stunt too far. The show did not need it. Robust oil and gas revenues and nervousness about Iran are prompting the Gulf Cooperation Council nations to modernise their airpower. The air show remains a key forum for defence manufacturers to impress the region's politicians and military chiefs.

With the business aviation market in North America and Europe likely to be flat next year, manufacturers and service providers are targeting marketing guns at what they see as one of the few growth regions, where demand for top-end charter is recovering fast. The air show - and its sister event, MEBA, next December - remain important focuses for suppliers.

Finally, this was a show that highlighted the fact that the Gulf is not content with being a consumer of other nations' equipment; it wants to become a centre for aerospace itself, and not as a low-cost provider, but a high-value, capital-intensive player. After the earlier emergence of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, this was the year of Abu Dhabi's Mubadala. Bankrolled by the emirate's oil revenues, its strategy of investments in and partnerships with aerospace companies around the world that bring a direct benefit back to the country's knowledge economy is taking shape.

Perhaps more quietly than before, the UAE and the wider Gulf is set to be one of the engines that will power a depleted industry back to life.

Source: Flight International